Confessions of a Recovering Micromanager: Chieh Huang (Transcript)

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, she’s like, “Chieh, what are we doing about the pink tax?”

I went and got my coffee, I sat down, I said, “OK, Nitasha, what is this pink tax?”

And so she told me, it’s really interesting. So, some of you might know that in 32 states across America, we actually charge a luxury goods tax on women’s products like feminine care products, so tampons and pads are taxed like luxury goods items.

So I would never dare call my wife — or if she called me and said, “Hey, hon, bring some pads on the way home,” and I said, “Babe, you know, there’s a trade war going on, the economy’s not that good, so no luxury goods this month but next month I promise. I’ll take a look at it.”

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I’d be single pretty quickly, right?

But what’s super interesting is now — we didn’t tell them what to do — but now, working with finance, they rebate the tax back to customers all around the country that we unfairly have to collect.

And so at this point in time, you might be thinking, “OK, what is the real, real upside of not micromanaging?” and it’s this: I didn’t do any of these projects. I didn’t make the AGV. I didn’t do the “Rethink the Pink Tax” campaign.

I didn’t do any of this, but I’m standing here on a TED stage taking all the credit for it. “This guy does nothing and takes all the credit for it. He’s a real CEO, this guy. He’s really got it down.”

But the reality is this. I don’t have the CEO thing down 100% pat, but I’ve actually learned the most fundamentally challenging lesson I’ve ever had to learn, and that’s this:

There is only one solution to micromanagement and that’s to trust.

Thank you.


Recommended for Further Reading:

People Skills: How to Assert Yourself, Listen to Others, and Resolve Conflicts

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