You may have been told you need to do something scary every day, if you want to be successful, but does that mean bungee jumping or something else? Ray Zinn returns for another addition of the Tough Things First podcast, with guest host Rob Artigo, to discuss the difference between scary and reckless.
Rob Artigo: Welcome back to another edition of the Tough Things First podcast. I’m your guest host, Rob Artigo. I’m a writer, and an entrepreneur in California. Hi, Ray.
Ray Zinn: Hey, Rob. So good to be with you again today.
Rob Artigo: And it’s a new year, 2018. The start of a new year tends to plant. I know it does for me, and I think it does for a lot of people. It tends to plant adventurous, if not grandiose thoughts in our heads. Do you buy into the notion that to achieve big things, you must do something scary?
Ray Zinn: That’s a good way to put it. You know, I think life is scary in and of itself. I mean, if you’re really wanting to improve, nothing in life worth having comes free, and so as they say, no pain, no gain, and so if pain is scary to you, then you’ve gotta learn to deal with pain, and I know I ran my crawl for 37 years, and it is scary. It’s scary every day you come to work. One thing you can’t control is the future, and so you can control the present. You can control what you do that day, but some of the things, the decisions you make that day, will impact the future of your company, or others may affect the future of your company.
And so I come white-knuckled to work every day, and like flying a plane, I’ve got a lot of people onboard and I’m responsible for their safety, and as the CEO of a company, I’m responsible for the safety of my employees, and I don’t take it lightly, and so that’s scary.
Rob Artigo: I think sometimes, when particularly younger people hear somebody giving them the recommendation, “Do something scary every day, that’ll help you succeed. Do something that scares you every day.”, they start think literally do something scary. What am I gonna do, jump in front of a bus then dive out of the way when it gets close? That’s doing something scary, but it’s not particularly healthy. What is a healthy scary versus a not healthy scary, and obviously another way that, in a business sense, we’re talking about the word “risk”, what is a healthy risk versus a not healthy risk?
Ray Zinn: Put yourself at risk. In other words, you can’t win a race you don’t enter, and I remember when I ran some track in school, and especially if somebody I, running up against somebody I didn’t know, it was scary, because I said earlier, you can’t control the future. You can only control the present [inaudible 00:03:25] where you are. So when I got off the starting line and got into the blocks and ready to take off, it was scary, and I could choose not to enter the race. I could say, “Well, I don’t like this scary stuff and so I won’t be an athlete.” I don’t care whether you’re a football, basketball, baseball, track, soccer, whatever it is your sport is. Those are risk-takers, people who are willing to put themselves at risk. Now what is risk? Risk is personal.
You can’t put somebody else at risk unless you’re being stupid, but you can, when I talk about doing something scary, I’m talking about scaring myself, not scaring my family or scaring my neighbors or my workers. Push yourself. In other words, get outside the box. In other words, don’t stay inside the box. Go from the known into the unknown, and then a little bit further even. Push yourself. This is what we mean by doing stuff that’s scary. So anyway, that’s my view on that.
Rob Artigo: And we, the way I look at it, particularly the beginning of a new year is if you feel like, one thing I used to do, and I’m just gonna kinda backtrack here, is when it came to a new year, I would evaluate where I’m at, and I would say, “Am I going to be happy if I’m doing this same thing on January 1st, 2019? Will I be content with that?” If the answer is no, I can look at what I would have to do to change that trajectory. And sometimes, that move is risky. It’s scary, and that’s where I define risk and scary healthy, versus not healthy, as you’ve made a careful analysis of your present situation, what your goals are, what you wanna achieve, and if you have to take that giant leap of faith to get there, yeah, it’s scary.
But if you have to make the leap to change the trajectory, then why not? Go ahead and do it, and that’s a healthy kind of scary.
Ray Zinn: Well, let’s go back to what I said. The known is the box, whereas if you’re staying within the box, your cocoon, your comfort zone. That’s the box, and that’s not scary because you know everything. You can predict it. So that’s where I said, you can predict what’s gonna happen because it’s known. It’s like multiplying two times two is four. It’s predictable. It’s in the box, and that’s not scary. So to be scary, you gotta go outside the box. That means go outside your cocoon, go outside your comfort zone, and that’s where you test yourself. That’s where you find the real metal in your capability, but don’t just go outside a little bit. Go what we call the unknown. So don’t just climb out of the box, go to the unknown, and the unknown is now, where it gets really scary because now you can’t predict it. You can’t predict the outcome. But I don’t even stop there. I don’t even go just to the unknown. I go beyond the unknown. I look out beyond what would be scary.
Rob Artigo: Beyond the beyond.
Ray Zinn: I’m beyond the scary part, and when I invented the Wafer Stepper, it didn’t become a reality for 11 years, and my company said, “Gee whiz, you really got us in trouble because we expected to have value two or three years after introduction,” and that’s normal. But to do think of a product that’s out 11 years, that’s really scary because how do you see out that far? How do you see out past a year or two? And that’s the challenge. So the people who can see, have that ability that their vision can go beyond two or three years, those are visionaries.
Rob Artigo: It’s funny that the idea of the visionary in this sense is somebody who sees an end without actually seeing that path, because they’re looking into a murky, or you’re looking into the scary nothingness, and you’re gonna get beyond that, and at the other side is where you’re gonna get your reward, the product, for example, the Wafer Stepper, will be done, but you don’t know how that’s all gonna shake out. You don’t know. Oftentimes, you don’t know it’s gonna take three years, four years, five years.
Ray Zinn: Right, exactly. It was crystal clear to me the value of the stepper. It was, it was crystal clear. I could see its value. Now my management didn’t see its value, but I can see its value. The problem was I didn’t know how long before it would become value, and that’s the scary part. The unknown part is, “Okay, we can see the value in it, but when is it gonna become valuable?” And it’s kinda like, seeing a newborn baby and trying to envision it being the CEO or a president of the United States or whatever. That’s the part that’s difficult, is to see this newborn and being able to see how it’s gonna turn out before it’s hardly taken its first breath, and so when you think of a product that hasn’t even gotten its first breath, and you’re trying to say, “Okay, this thing’s gonna take off,” and then it doesn’t take off in a year or two or three or whatever, that’s the challenge because you have to have enough runway in your financing to allow you to get that product developed and then introduced and then developing revenue.
You have to have enough runway to do that, and some companies don’t. They absolutely run out of money because they’re all excited and all hyped up on the idea of the product, and underestimate how long it’s gonna take it to get it to market and actually accept in the market. So that’s the scary part. The scary part is predicting accurately enough when it’s gonna become a reality. I know for a fact that on the Wafer Stepper, that had my company known it was gonna take 11 years before that thing would get adopted, they would never let me develop it. And so thank goodness they didn’t know that. It’s kinda like if you knew you’re gonna die in an operation, you wouldn’t take the operation. And so even though that Stepper was extremely valuable, and it’s probably the most valuable piece of equipment in our industry, it didn’t become a reality for 11 years.
Rob Artigo: I know from experience that the risk that when I’ve done something, or specific thing that was a scary step, there had been times where I thought, had I known that it was gonna be this hard, would I had still taken that step? Oftentimes, my answer is yes because I don’t know yet what the outcome is.
Ray Zinn: Well, my company, when I developed the Stepper, they didn’t hold it. They didn’t have a runway. They didn’t stick with it, and so they lost out on what has now become the most important piece of equipment in our industry, and yet they held in there for a few years, maybe three years, and that’s about right. Typically, if you can’t get it out and revenue-generating in three years, you know you’re in trouble, because I don’t know how many companies can fund it all the way for 11 years, but that did happen, and if I had to do it over again, I thought it would take off too. I was all energetic about it, but as it turned out, it didn’t turn out well in the few years.
I could see that my company wasn’t behind it, and so I left and I started Micrel, actually, and I left, the one where I did the Stepper left in ’76, and started Micrel in ’78. I left because I was concerned about their commitment to the product. So pretty scary, started Micrel, pretty scary.
Rob Artigo: Wow, big things came out of that leap.
Ray Zinn: Well, I’d like to think so, anyway.
Rob Artigo: A few years, a few years of success at Silicon Valley, as CEO of [inaudible 00:12:40] company, and that leap again, it all began with the Wafer Stepper, and you didn’t know that it would turn into Micrel.
Ray Zinn: No, actually. And another thing too, when I started Micrel, because I couldn’t do this venture funding, and I didn’t want to do venture funding, everybody told me it’d fail. They’d say “You are not gonna succeed, your company’s gonna go belly-up in a year or two.” And here are 37 years later, I recently sold the company, but it was very successful. 36 out of 37 years of profitability. So yes, that one was very scary because I started with my own money, but very successful company.
Rob Artigo: Really, really good subject, Ray. So find out more at ToughThingsFirst.com, Tough Things First on Facebook, and the book Tough Things First is available at major book retailers, or just Amazon. Thanks again, Ray.
Ray Zinn: You’re welcome, Rob.