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  • What I'm really here to do today is talk to you about micromanagement

  • and what I learned about micromanagement

  • by being a micromanager over the last few years of my life.

  • But first off, what is micromanagement?

  • How do we really define it?

  • Well, I posit that it's actually taking great, wonderful, imaginative people --

  • like all of you --

  • bringing them in into an organization

  • and then crushing their souls --

  • (Laughter)

  • by telling them what font size to use.

  • In the history of mankind,

  • has anyone ever said this?

  • "John, we were never going to close that deal with Times New Roman,

  • but because you insisted on Helvetica --

  • bam!

  • Dotted line --

  • millions of dollars started to flow.

  • That was the missing piece!"

  • No one's ever said that, right?

  • There's actually physical manifestations that we probably see in ourselves

  • by being micromanaged.

  • Think about the most tired you've ever been in your life, right?

  • It probably wasn't when you stayed the latest at work,

  • or it wasn't when you came home from a road trip,

  • it was probably when you had someone looking over your shoulder,

  • watching your each and every move.

  • Kind of like my mother-in-law when she's over right?

  • (Laughter)

  • I'm like, "I got this," you know?

  • And so there's actually data to support this.

  • There was a recent study in the UK.

  • They took 100 hospital employees,

  • put an activity tracker on them

  • and then let them go about their next 12-hour shift all alone,

  • just a regular 12-hour shift.

  • At the end of the shift, they asked them, "Do you feel fatigued?"

  • And what they found was actually really interesting.

  • It wasn't necessarily the people who moved the most

  • that felt the most fatigued,

  • but it was the folks that didn't have control over their jobs.

  • So if we know that micromanagement isn't really effective,

  • why do we do it?

  • Is it that the definition is wrong?

  • I posited that micromanagement

  • is just bringing in great, wonderful, imaginative people

  • and then crushing their souls,

  • so is it that we actually want to hire --

  • deep down inside of us --

  • dull and unimaginative people?

  • It's one of those questions you probably don't even need to ask.

  • It's like, "Do you want to get your luggage stolen at the airport?"

  • Probably not, but I've never been asked, right?

  • So has anyone asked you, as a manager,

  • "Do you want to hire dull and unimaginative people?"

  • So, I don't know, this is TED, we better back it up with data.

  • We actually asked hundreds of people around the country --

  • hundreds of managers across the country --

  • do you want to hire dull and unimaginative people?

  • Alright, it's an interesting question.

  • Well, interesting results as well.

  • So, 94% said no --

  • (Laughter)

  • we don't want to hire dull and unimaginative people.

  • Six percent probably didn't understand the question --

  • (Laughter)

  • but, bless their hearts,

  • maybe they do just want to hire dull and unimaginative people.

  • But 94 percent said they did not, and so why do we do this still then?

  • Well, I posit that it's something really, really simple

  • that all of us deep down inside know and have actually felt.

  • So when we get hired into an organization --

  • it could be a club, it could be a law firm,

  • it could be a school organization, it could be anything --

  • no one ever jumps to the top of the totem pole, right?

  • You start at the very bottom.

  • Doing what?

  • Doing work.

  • You actually do the work, right?

  • And if you're really good at doing the work,

  • what do you get rewarded with?

  • More work, right?

  • Yeah, that's right, you guys are all great micromanagers.

  • (Laughter)

  • You do more work,

  • and then pretty soon, if you're really good at it,

  • you do a little bit of work still,

  • but actually, you start to manage people doing the work.

  • And if you're really good at that, what happens after that?

  • You start managing the people who manage the people doing the work,

  • and it's at that point in time,

  • you start to lose control over the output of your job.

  • I've actually witnessed this firsthand.

  • So, I started a company called Boxed in our garage,

  • and this was it -- I know it doesn't seem like much --

  • you know, there's a pressure washer in the back --

  • this is "living the dream."

  • And my wife was really proud of me when we started this,

  • or that's what she said, she was really proud of me --

  • and so she would give me a hug, and I'm pretty sure she had her phone up

  • and she was thinking, "Oh, is John from Harvard still single?"

  • It was kind of like a lemonade stand gone wrong in the beginning,

  • but we actually went up and said mobile commerce is going to be big,

  • and actually consumer packaged goods were going to change over time,

  • so let's take these big, bulky packs that you don't want to lug home --

  • so not the two-pack of Oreo cookies but the 24-pack

  • and not the 24-pack of toilet paper but the 48-pack --

  • and let's ship it to you much like a warehouse club would do

  • except they wouldn't ship it to you.

  • So that's what we basically did.

  • We had a really slow printer

  • and what we did was actually say, "OK, this printer is taking forever, man.

  • Let's scribble something that would delight the customer

  • on the back of these invoices."

  • So we'd say, "Hey, keep smiling," you know?

  • "Hey, you're awesome,"

  • or, "Hey, enjoy the Doritos,"

  • or, "We love Gatorade, too."

  • Stuff like that.

  • And so it started breaking up the monotony of the job as well

  • because I was picking and packing all of the boxes,

  • and that's all you basically do for eight, nine, 10, 12 hours a day

  • when you're sitting in the garage.

  • And so an interesting thing happened.

  • So we actually started to grow.

  • And so, you know, over the last --

  • actually just even 36 months after that,

  • we ended up selling hundreds of millions of dollars worth of stuff,

  • and we actually grew really, really quickly.

  • But during that time, my role started to change, too.

  • So, yes, I was the CEO in the garage;

  • I was picking and packing, doing all the work,

  • but then I graduated

  • to actually managing the people who picked and packed,

  • and then pretty soon I managed the people

  • who managed the people picking and packing.

  • And even now, I manage the C-staff who manage the departments

  • who manage the people who manage the people picking and packing.

  • And it is at that point in time, I lost control.

  • So I thought, OK, we were delighting all of these customers with these notes.

  • They loved them, but I can't write these notes anymore,

  • so you know what I'm going to do?

  • I'm going to tell these folks how to write these notes.

  • What pen to use, what color to use, what you should write,

  • what font you should use,

  • don't mess up the margins,

  • this has to be this big, this has to be that big.

  • And pretty soon this goal of raising morale

  • by breaking up the monotony in the fulfillment center

  • actually became micromanagement, and people started complaining to HR.

  • It's like, "Dude, this CEO guy has got to get out of my hair, OK?

  • I know how to write a damn note."

  • (Laughter)

  • So it was at that point in time, we said, "OK, you know?

  • We hired these great, wonderful people,

  • let's give them the mission that's 'delight the customer,'

  • let's give them the tool to do so, and that's these notes -- have at it."

  • And so what we found was actually pretty startling.

  • Some folks actually took the notes

  • and actually started drawing these really ornate minimurals on them.

  • When folks ordered diapers, you'd get really fun notes like this:

  • "Say 'hi' to the baby for us!"

  • And you know, the next size up, if they bought a bigger size,

  • they'd write, "Growing up so fast."

  • And so people really, really took to it.

  • But it was at that time that it also went off the rails a few times.

  • And so we had someone just writing, "Thx, thx," all the time,

  • and it's like, "Alright, dude, my boss used to write that to me,"

  • so, let's not write "Thx" anymore.

  • But you also had interesting things on the other side.

  • People got a little too creative.

  • And so, like I said before, we sell everything in bulk:

  • the big packs of diapers, big packs of toilet paper,

  • the big packs of Doritos and Oreo cookies.

  • We also sell the big packs of contraception,

  • and so --

  • this is getting a little hairy.

  • (Laughter)

  • So we sell the 40-pack of condoms, right?

  • We're all adults in this room -- 40-pack of condoms.

  • So, someone ordered four 40-packs of condoms --

  • (Laughter)

  • And that's all they ordered,

  • so, 160 condoms,

  • the packer was like, "I know how to delight the customer."

  • (Laughter)

  • "This guy ..."

  • This is what they wrote:

  • [Everyone loves an optimist]

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • We didn't know whether to fire him or to promote him, but he's still there.

  • So, "Everyone loves an optimist."

  • But here is where it went a little bit off the rails

  • and I felt a little bit conflicted in all of this.

  • And --

  • oh, there's a really bad typo --

  • so if there was only a red T-E-D on stage that I counted on being here,

  • it wouldn't be a typo, right?

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • I promised you I had a really bad sense of humor,

  • and now I'm gratifying that.

  • So I told you. But I really was conflicted, right?

  • At this point in time, we started doing things

  • that actually weren't part of our core mission

  • and people started failing at it.

  • And so, I thought, should we let them fail?

  • Should we continue to let them do this?

  • I don't know --

  • I didn't know at that moment,

  • but I thought this:

  • Is failure really that bad?

  • I'm not saying we should celebrate failure.

  • There's a lot of talk in Silicon Valley that says, "Let's celebrate failure."

  • No, I don't know if we would go all the way there,

  • because like, in our board meetings,

  • our board members are never like, "Hey, Chieh, you failed last quarter,

  • keep doing that, buddy, OK?"

  • No one's ever said that.

  • If you're part of an organization like that,

  • give me a call, I want to sit in on that meeting.

  • In private, I don't think many people celebrate failure,

  • but failure, I posit, is actually pretty necessary

  • for the folks truly in the long-term,

  • for the smart and imaginative people

  • truly trying to fulfill the mission that you give them at hand.

  • And so failure can actually be seen as a milestone

  • along that mission towards success.

  • And if the downside of not micromanaging

  • is potentially this perceived notion that you might fail more often,

  • and if it's really not that bad,

  • what is the upside?

  • Well, we saw the upside and it's pretty great.

  • We tasked our engineers and said,

  • "Hey, some of our fulfillment centers cost millions of dollars to build,

  • there's miles and miles of conveyor,

  • and so, can you do the same thing,

  • can you make them efficient without spending millions of dollars?"

  • So, they got to work:

  • they actually did this -- this is not photoshopped,

  • the guy is really grinding.

  • They built an autonomous guided vehicle.

  • We didn't tell them what to build, what format it needed to be.

  • In 90 days they produced the first prototype:

  • powered off Tesla batteries, stereoscopic cameras, lidar systems.

  • It basically replicates the efficiency of a conveyor belt

  • without the actual capex of a conveyor belt.

  • So it doesn't actually just stop with engineers.

  • Our marketing department --

  • we told them, "Hey, get the word out; do the right thing."

  • We have this wonderful lady, Nitasha, on the marketing team.

  • She stopped me in the morning,