Zooming in and Zooming out

I had recently heard a phrase, great leaders are good at zooming in and zooming out, it gave examples of Elon Musk and Steve Jobs.
While it didn’t strike me then, after a little while of thinking more about it, a few days, to be frank, it dawned on me, like many great sayings, there is a lot of depth in the phrase.
The oblivious one is that great leaders, pay attention, pay attention to the details, but also pay attention to the larger pieces, how those pieces fit into a larger story, why each piece matters, how the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Paying manically attention to detail on the small things. Paying attention to the small things can get operational, which might make one lose focus on the large goal
Zooming out gives one a larger picture, but it also gives a goal for leaders to rally the troops around. Another great thing it does is allow leaders to see the entire machinery of the organization turn in parts, which part moves the other, hopefully, find operational efficiencies to solve. But Zooming out is not easy, it requires a leader to understand the basics of each part of the business, zooming into the smaller parts. (Which is also one of the reasons great leaders tend to have a quote or anecdote on every aspect of running a business.)
The ability to zoom in and zoom out is also critical for Product Managers, talking to clients & leaders in an org requires the product manager to be in a zoomed out mode. It is the opposite when talking to the teams the PM works with, high-level goals leave massive gaps in execution plans, worse can cause confusion in what actually needs to be built. Product Managers need to be able to function both as a strategy: Mission – Vision level and also at a ticket and status level.
This is fact is also true for most managers, across functions. We unknowing set ourselves to zoom in and zoom out. Employees who always question why, question the status quo, are curious are in the early stages of being able to zoom in and zoom out.

Diametrically Opposite Skills

This is a phrase I have used a lot in recent meetings in the office. The basic premise is that organizations can’t be good at two skills which oppose each other, which basically require a whole different mindset. Here are a few examples

  • You can either be the largest video platform on the planet or be the largest paid video subscriber base, the two require different skills. YouTube is all about discovering the best user-generated content, Netflix is about consuming the best, now heavily curated, video library. Yes, YouTube has subscription base, but relatively the money will be chump change.
  • You can either be the largest restaurant chain in the world or be an authentic fine dining restaurant. Again, they require very different skills, Subway is all about managing the supply chain to the brand and the consistency in flavor, your favorite eat out around the block may probably have different flavors of food based on who is cooking that day
  • You can either be a mass media newspaper trying to get as many readers and advertisers or a small 1 person publication running paid subscription site.

It is not to say that organizations can’t change their skill set. Microsoft is working hard to move from an Operating System organization to a services organization. New York Times seems to have made a successful move from a traditional newspaper to one driven by subscriptions. But these changes are relatively slow and very deliberate and not to mention challenging. Many have failed to make the transition, Blockbuster for example.
The skillset is driven by the strategy which drives, and also gets driven by incentives, more on incentives and their effects in a future post.
Photo by Pablo García Saldaña on Unsplash