GA 002 | Learning, Focus, and Innovation with Matthew May

By Ron Pereira Updated on June 16th, 2021

Matt MayWelcome to Episode 2 of the Gemba Academy podcast!

In this episode, I’m joined by Matt May.  Matt is an incredible lean thinker who specializes in helping companies innovate.

Originally, Matt and I were planning to talk about another topic… that was until I stumbled across an article that talked about the importance of being able to focus on what they called “main things.”

The reason this article troubled me is because I’m, admittedly, addicted to learning which, I worried, created tension between my ability to focus on “main things” and my love of learning “new things.”

Well, as you’ll discover, Matt does an incredible job helping me to see why my “main things” weren’t quite what I thought they were.

I feel extremely confident you’ll benefit from Matt’s incredible wisdom.

Also, please share this with your co-workers, friends, family, and anyone else you come into contact with!

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • Matt’s favorite quotation… think Lao Tzu!
  • What the phrase “Learning Organization” means to Matt
  • Whether there’s a difference between “training” and “learning”
  • How Matt’s daughter runs experiments from her high chair!
  • The relationship between Innovation & Learning
  • Whether it’s possible for learning to become a distraction
  • What the “Main Thing” really is and why it’s deceptively complex
  • How Matt helped me identify what my “real” main thing is
  • What the “story of ice” has to do with focus and innovation
  • Why your purpose should never be an “activity”
  • How Netflix is a great example of being able to identify main things
  • Why Matt takes a break from his work every 90 minutes

Podcast Resources

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Full Written Transcript

Ron Pereira:  You’re listening to episode 2 with Matt May.

[background music]

Announcer:  Welcome to the Gemba Academy podcast… the show that’s focused on helping individuals and companies achieve breakthrough results using the same continuous improvement principles leveraged by companies such as Toyota, Del Monte, and the US Department of Defense.  And now, here’s your host, Ron Pereira.

Ron:  Hey there, this is Ron Pereira with Gemba Academy and first of all, thank you so much for taking time out of your day to listen to the show.

Now this is episode 2 and in episode 1 we provided an overview of what we hope to accomplish with the show.  Now, in episode 2 we’re going to really get things started with an interview.

So today, I actually interviewed a gentleman named Matt May. Many of you probably know of Matt’s work. He’s written several books. One of my favorite books is, “The Laws of Subtraction.”

In any event, Matt and I had a topic that we were going to explore and then I actually stumbled across an article, recently, that talked about something called, “the main thing.”

We’re going to get into it in the interview but it’s really more about how we should focus on the main things that are important to us and to our businesses. It’s something that I’ve struggled with.

I’m a learning junkie, I guess you could say. I’m constantly trying to learn new things. In fact, I love to learn new things.

If I’m not learning something, eventually, I grow stale. I get grumpy. All the rest of it. It’s something that I’m trying to balance as to how do I balance what I call “the main things,” of my business, Gemba Academy, with learning new things.

I knew Matt was going to have an opinion on this. What you’re going to find is that I went into this interview, honestly, with no idea what Matt was going to say. [laughs]

Matt really told me before we started. He wasn’t sure what he was going to say but we really have a natural conversation.

As you’re going to find out, Matt actually helps me in something that I think I’ve always known what Matt was going to tell me but I wasn’t able to articulate it.

What Matt was able to do for me, was bring a tremendous amount of clarity and vision to what my main thing here, at Gemba Academy, what that is and really what I need to be doing as a leader of this organization.

I hope you’re going to enjoy this show. I’m positive you are. All the show notes and resources can be found over at gembapodcast.com/02.

Enough from me, let’s get to the show.

All right, well Matt, thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us today.

Matt May:  Well, thank you. I’m glad to be here.

Ron:  All right, I guess you’re calling us from sunny California, I suppose?

Matt:  Absolutely. Although, today, I don’t think it’s so sunny.

Ron:  No?

Matt:  It’s blustery and overcast.

Ron:  It’s overcast here in Texas, too. I guess we’re feeling the same pain there.


Ron:  All right, so why don’t we start. Go ahead and tell our listeners a little bit about yourself, your background, and really how did you first come to learn about continuous improvement, in general.

Matt:  Gee, Matt May in a nutshell. I’ll do that last part first. I was exposed to continuous innovation during an eight year, full time consulting stint that happened by accident, with the University of Toyota, here in Torrance, California, which is their sales headquarters.

I spent eight years there and moved from an initial project of facilitating the formation of the University of Toyota all the way through to becoming a master instructor.

I left in 2006, which enabled me to write a book, which enabled me to write three other books and launch my own campaign for innovation and helping other companies innovate.

Help them make their products, their services more innovative. I write, I speak, I coach, I facilitate, and that’s probably how we came to know each other.

Ron:  Yeah, exactly. We’re going to definitely link to all of Matt’s websites, and books, and what not. Those will be at the show notes at gembapodcast.com/02, one nine. Definitely, please check out all of Matt’s work there.

Before we get into the teeth of the interview, we like to ask our guest to share a continuous improvement, or leadership, or innovation quotation that inspires them. What quotation inspires you, Matt?

Matt:  Well, the one that changed my perspective was one by Lao Tzu which just a little snippet of ancient Chinese philosophy which goes something like this; to acquire knowledge, add things everyday. To acquire wisdom, subtract things everyday.

Ron:  What does that really mean to you, Matt?

Matt:  Well, it means that the ability to be in insightful, to be introspective, to be wise about what you’re doing or what you’re saying, whether it’s with respect to your own actions, whether it’s with respect to what you’re advising other comes from the ability to truly focus on the things that are most important.

As my friend, John Mita, says, “Subtract the obvious, in order to add the meaningful.”

Ron:  You didn’t ask for this but I want to give you a nice sales promotion. “The Laws of Subtraction,” is probably one of my favorite books that I’ve ever read.

It’s fascinating when you stop to think about it. You just find yourself in your life, at least for me, so cluttered.

You look around, you’re like, “Oh my gosh.” We live in this world of must‑have and that’s, like you said, that could be so dangerous. You just become so convoluted and so overwhelmed. It’s hard to succeed sometimes, isn’t it?

Matt:  Yeah, it is at the heart of the Lean. Whether you’re talking about Lean thinking, whether you’re talking about Lean production, whether you’re talking about the Lean startup, subtraction is at the very core of all of that.

Ron:  It ties in perfectly in the opening, you haven’t heard that yet, but in the opening I talk about how I’ve personally struggled. I know you and I shared, talked about this offline.

I’ve struggled with a topic that we’re going to explore today and that is this thing called this learning organization, and learning, and how we want to grow as individuals but at the same time, having that focus.

It really ties into your whole concept of subtraction. Let’s dig into that part of the interview here, Matt. Let’s start with, when you hear the phrase, “learning organization,” that’s a very popular buzz word.

There are lots of books and articles written on learning organizations. What is that? What does that mean to you?

Matt:  What does it mean to me? I guess I first came across that term in “The Fifth Discipline,” Peter Senge’s “The Fifth Discipline,” which really and truly is about the learning organization systems thinking.

I believe that a learning organization is one that has a child‑like ethos of curiosity in which you are experimenting in order to create knowledge.

Ron:  Can you think of…now obviously, Toyota is probably going to pop to your mind but can you think of any companies, in addition to Toyota, that have strong learning organizations?

Matt:  Sure, gosh, I think that Toyota is not alone in the ability to run millions of little experiments. The entire Japanese culture is fraught with companies from Sony who does even a better job, I think, with respect to, I guess, the number of little experiments and suggestions that happen over the course of a year.

They’re not alone there. It is a cultural, I think phenomenon. Honda I’ve worked with. I think that that is, gosh, I don’t know enough about companies like the Googles, and the Apples, and the Amazons but I do know the folks at Amazon will tell you that the notion of Lean and learning go hand‑in‑hand. They are quite the experimenters.

I think the entire Lean startup movement is a good indication that when you say, “Any companies,” I think there is a movement afoot among the entrepreneurial set that has caught on like wildfire and I would venture to say that there are 10s of thousands of companies that are experimenting in order to find that scalable business idea.

Ron:  Here’s an interesting question, is there a difference between training and learning? If so, what is it?

Matt:  I think that there are different kinds of learning. This almost goes to the quote that I gave you as one of my favorites.

There are two ways to learn, I guess. There’s probably a variety of styles of learning.

The acquisition of existing knowledge is one way. You go to college, you go to school, and actually our entire formative school experience is meant to acquire existing knowledge. That’s actually the difficulty, because when you get in to the working world, that just carries over and you start doing boss centered work.

You lose the ability that you were born with in that first four or five years of your life when you are not necessarily just acquiring existing knowledge, you are creating knowledge for yourself, and that’s different. The metaphor that I always love to use is the one of my daughter in the high chair, watching her create new knowledge. She does it like any good scientist does.

She’s in the high chair, there’s food in front of her, and she has a problem to solve and a question has been raised in her mind. Mind you, she can’t even speak. She does not know what a bully is, or cannot define it. She doesn’t know what a spoon is, but she sees this thing with stuff in it. She’s up above the ground, and she wants to know how to get that stuff on the floor. In order to do that, she has various options, various possibilities.

She could use this thing with a curved saucer called a spoon. She could just dip her hand in and throw fists of it on the floor, or she could take the whole bowl and just throw it. Those are her core capabilities, and those are her options, and she forms a little hypothesis in her brain that says “If I pick this thing up and just let it go, I think what’s going to happen is it’s going to make lots of noise and food’s going to get everywhere” and that’s what she decides to do.

She runs that little experiment, and gosh darn it, there’s great feedback. It confirms her hypothesis, mom gets really busy and puts the food back on the high chair tray. Like a good scientist, she does it again to confirm her results. That’s the creation of new knowledge.

It’s where you see a young child in the confines of a sandbox using their imagination. It’s when you see a young child who’s just learned to walk, walking down the street with mom or dad, hand in hand, and it takes them about an hour to walk 50 feet.

The reason is because she is looking, tasting, feeling, smelling, observing every little thing from an ant to a stick to a crack in the sidewalk. That’s a different kind of learning. That is the creation of new knowledge. It is not the accumulation of static knowledge, and I think that’s what you’re talking about.

Ron:  It is. Sometimes you’ll hear, I formally went to college and whatnot so I’m not down on college or anything. But in my personal situation, I think I learned much more after college, obviously, than I ever did in those four to six years where I was studying. That life experience, that throwing the food on the floor, that’s on the job training, I suppose, right?

Matt:  Well, yeah. It’s the ability to run an experiment. It’s the ability to recapture the art of the question. Why? Why is this here? How do we know this is true? How can I do this better experiment? We lose that ability because in the school system, we’re not really asked to do that except maybe in science class, and it’s very, very structured at that point. Instead what we’re taught to do is, the teacher will come up with all the questions, and you simply have to find the right answer. That’s a different kind of learning, so you’ve got to relearn before you can learn. Yeah, you actually have to unlearn, in order to learn.

Ron:  All right. Next question, what’s the relationship? You’re obviously really big into innovation. What’s the relationship, if any, between innovation and learning?

Matt:  It is the iterative cycle that underlies problem solving, the creation of new knowledge, which is learning, and innovation, which I define very simply as trying to figure out a better way to do something. A better way to do something, better than it’s ever been done before, are all the same. It’s the cycle that I simply defined with the child in the high chair exercise, where you take a look around, you have a question, you have a hypothesis, you run an experiment and you get feedback. You iterate through that. That is how one innovates, that is how one creates new knowledge, and that is how one creatively solves problems.

Ron:  I think the startup has done a great job at coming up with that minimum valuable product, and in pivoting if needed, right?

Matt:  Sure. I saw workers on the factory floor using toilet paper tubes and masking tape at duct tape and Popsicle sticks to mock up a minimally viable tool. Yeah, it is. Eric Reese has done a great job of applying that Lean, nested experimentation process to the entrepreneurial startup.

Ron:  It’s like 3P for the business world, right?

Matt:  Yeah.

Ron:  Now to transition a little bit. Much is written within the productivity world, for lack of a better phrase, productivity world, about the importance of being able to stay focused on your core competencies. For example, I recently read an article, and I’ll link to it in the show notes, where they were speaking about the CEO of Dickies, which is a Dallas based clothing company for those who are not familiar with that company.

The CEO had a sign on her desk, and possibly still does, that reads “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” In other words, really trying to stay focused on what it is that’s your main thing for your part of that business. Don’t become distracted. My question is, is it possible for learning to become a distraction, and actually harmful to the organization?

Matt:  It depends how you execute learning. The statement that you just read that’s on the card in the Dickies CEO’s office, keep the main thing the main thing, is actually deceptively complex because there are two components to it. The best treatment of what I’m about to say I’ve ever read, heard, talked to, listened to, is from a gentleman I referenced earlier, John Mita.

There are two components. One is priority, and the other is focus. The ability to find the main thing is focus. Keeping it the main thing is the notion of priority. Now, as John would tell you, he will tell you that the difference there is just in nuance. As he says, it’s like the difference between a ballpoint pen and a gel pen, for instance. But as a designer, he was trained to focus, not necessarily prioritize when he was working at the MIT media center, Media Lab.

Then, when he became the president, in other words a chief executive, of Rhode Island School of Design, he needed to learn how to prioritize, which he didn’t need to do as a creative.

I think you’re on to something, and I think the key will be, how do you resolve the tension between priority and focus? I’ll let that settle in your brain for just a minute.

Ron:  Like we were talking off line, even myself personally, my main thing with Gemba Academy, obviously, is developing new content, taking care of our customers. But at the end of the day, I and my business partner Kevin, and John, also some of our main things are to keep looking forward. What’s coming with new technology? What will the video training business, if you will, look like four years from now?

If we’re only focused on the main thing of making videos every day, these new technologies, these new innovations, they may pass us by. I see that when I worked at, I don’t want to name names, but I worked at certain cell phone companies. It happened to them.

The main thing was to be excellent at making these cell phones and telling customers what they want. Next thing you know, this little company from Finland or other places come zooming past you, and you’re like, “Wow, what just happened?”

Matt:  You just said something that is the key to everything. You just defined your work as making videos. Allow me to tell you a cautionary tale.

Ron:  OK.

Matt:  It’s the story of ice. I borrowed this story liberally from my friend Guy Kawasaki, who tells this story all the time. The story of ice goes like this. Ice 1.0 begins before 1900, where the way that you would get ice into your home in order to keep your perishables, your produce, your meats and vegetables, things like that, keep them longer so they don’t rot, was that Bubba and Junior would go out in the winter time to a frozen lake or pond.

They would cut big blocks of ice, stick them on a horse‑drawn wagon, and deliver them to your door. They would do that repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly. That’s how you would get ice. Fast forward 25 years, 1925‑ish or so, and Ice 2.0. Ice 2.0 is the ice factory. The ice factory would make blocks of ice in a factory.

They would stick them on a horse‑drawn wagon, refrigerated this time, and deliver them throughout the city, town, neighborhood. Now you didn’t have to live near a frozen lake or pond and wait for winter time. Now, Ice 3.0 is another 20 years past that point. It is the original PC, the personal chiller, the refrigerator. Now you didn’t need blocks of ice at all.

The cautionary tale is this. None of the ice harvesters, which is Bubba and Junior cutting blocks of ice back in the 1900s, became ice factories. None of the ice factories became refrigeration companies. The reason is because they too narrowly defined their purpose.

If you define your purpose as an activity, in other words, which is by the way what you just did, if you define your purpose as, “In the winter time I go out and cut blocks of ice,” well, gosh, of course you’re not going to adopt the mindset of the ice factory. If you define your purpose as, “I make blocks of ice in a factory,” of course you’re not going to move to that next curve.

But if you define your purpose as the value that you actually provide, which is, “I provide a way for people to maintain their perishables longer,” then you’re more likely to adopt that next curve, or jump to it, or innovatively create the next curve. In your instance, what I would tell you is don’t define your work as “We make training videos.” What is the value that you truly provide? That way, not only have you truly identified your main thing, but you’ve left open all the different ways to deliver the main thing.

Ron:  Gosh, I feel like I’m going to get an invoice in the mail for the free consulting here. [laughs] That’s incredible. You’re so right. Yeah, we don’t make videos. We help companies transform and learn and evolve. This is what we do. Right now videos help with that, but that’s not the only way, obviously. Excellent.

Matt:  The modern example of that is Netflix. Granted that they stumbled, but look at what Netflix is doing. If they just viewed themselves as, “We deliver DVDs to people and take the pain of the corner video store away,” then they wouldn’t have moved to the next curve so readily, which was streaming video, and now the new curve, which is original content. They are disrupting their competitors because of that.

They have created a new way to consume, which is binge watching. I can’t tell you how many people that I know that, and I’m one of them, that sat their for an entire day and watched the entire 13 or whatever episodes of “House of Cards” as soon as it came out in February. I did. It was a rainy, cold day here in California, so I can’t ride my bike, I can’t play tennis, I can’t go stand up paddle boarding comfortably. I had a full day. I consumed 13 hours of TV watching, which I never do. That’s the modern ice story, is when you define the value as providing a seamless way to consume entertaining…Entertainment.

Ron:  Media.

Matt:  Yeah, media. Of course you’re going to think about the next best way to do that, and that leads you to learning and innovation. Learning, how do we experiment with new technologies? How do we create a better way using those existing technologies? Can we create our own technology? Can we change the rules of the game to make it even better for the user, for the audience, for your customer?

That leads to my favorite creative method, which is design thinking, because it’s all human‑centered innovation, which sometimes in the Lean world gets lost. I can’t tell you how many companies I run across that, yeah they do process improvement, but it’s process improvement for the sake of process improvement, and they lose sight of why they’re doing it in the first place.

I guess my overall message to you is focus. The main thing is the deeper purpose or higher purpose, if you will. What’s that true value proposition, the compelling reason that people want to be associated with Gemba Academy?

Ron:  Yeah. I guess you’re right, in that when you think about the Dickies article, the main thing is keep the main thing, get off Facebook, get off Twitter. Really, it’s a trap. The main thing is not an activity. I think that’s your main message here. The main thing is a philosophy or a purpose or a why do you exist kind of thing. That’s where I was missing, and I’m sure many of our listeners have been missing, so thank you for bringing clarity to that, Matt.

Matt:  There’s a simple good old Lean technique that will help you do that, because so many people, especially in larger organizations, can’t tell you what their root cause is. That’s what we’re talking about. A purpose is a root cause. What’s the cause you’re fighting for? It begins with the little white card that we all carry, which is a business card which has a job title on it.

It’s very easy, I think, to use the 5 Whys technique to get down to what your true purpose in life is. You begin with your title, which is not your root cause, it is not your true purpose. But you start with the job description. Maybe it’s a title. What does that mean? I’ll just give an example. “I’m a census taker.” OK, why is that important?

You keep asking that question until you can go no further. Eventually you’ll get to, “Well, it’s important because it allows the government to provide services to individuals in a more timely manner,” whatever. There is a core purpose at the end of three or four rounds of asking, “Why is that important?”

Ron:  I guess the homework for ourselves and our listeners is, what is your main thing for your position in life? You might have a main thing for personal life, professional life, and so forth. Is that fair?

Matt:  Yes, I think it’s quite fair. I think that most of us in business, if we’re honest with ourselves about why we exist, it needs to go beyond some sort of money issue, because that just really doesn’t get anyone out of the bed in the morning. It’ll get down to something fairly universal, which is to help others succeed, no matter what you’re doing. The rest is just different ways to do that, I think.

Ron:  All right. Well, that was fantastic. Matt, we’ve come to my favorite part of the show now, which we’re calling the quick fire segment. This is basically where you get to share your personal thoughts and wisdom, which you’ve been doing. But we’re really going to dig in now on Matt, OK? The first question, Matt, is, when you first started down your personal journey with continuous improvement and innovation, what was holding you back from being successful?

Matt:  I was looking at problems I was facing from the wrong perspective. I was looking at them…I remember it. It struck me like a ton of bricks. I was in the middle of that eight year stint with Toyota and I was up against a problem that I simply could no solve. I was hired to help them implement ideas. I ran out of ideas.

I was looking at the problem from the traditional Western view. We’re taught to look at any big decision from maybe three different choice perspectives. What to do versus what to not do. What to put in, what to add, versus what to leave out. Then what to pursue, what to go after, rather than what to ignore.

I was doing like any good Western MBA person would do, which is, “What do I do? What do I pursue? What do I put into this particular solution?” I was not looking at it from the perspective of what to leave out, what to ignore, what to not do. That little snippet of wisdom that I began the podcast with that you asked me about…

Ron:  Subtraction.

Matt:  Yeah. It was actually left on a little yellow sticky.

Ron:  On your chair, right?

Matt:  On the back of a chair, yeah.

Ron:  I remember that.

Matt:  It really helped me understand that I was looking at things from just the wrong way. As soon as I looked at things from a different perspective, a whole new world opened up. I began to see the entire Toyota experience as that, as what to leave out, what to ignore, what to not do, rather than the former, what to do, what to add.

The entire notion of Lexus, the relentless pursuit of perfection, was a streamlining activity. The way that we get to perfection is to use the good old quote from Michelangelo, which is, “I saw David in the block of marble and I simply removed everything that wasn’t David.” That’s my answer to the question. That was the block. The block was my own mindset.

Ron:  Matt, what’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Matt:  The best advice that I have ever received. Well, I hate to beat a dead [laughs] …

Ron:  That’s fine. Beat it.

Matt:  It really comes from, I think, Eastern philosophy, and it wasn’t so much any one living person, necessarily, but is just some of that good old ancient ‑‑ 2,500‑year‑old ancient ‑‑ wisdom. There’s a lot of wisdom there that I think I’ve brought into my being now that gives me a different worldview.

Lao Tzu ‑‑ folks that were in about the formation of the Toyota production system, the Taiichi Ohnos of the world. There are all kinds of great quotes from him, from Sakichi Toyoda. It has stayed with me. You’re probably getting that it was a life‑changing experience for me, and it still has hung with me and it remains my zeitgeist, I think.

Ron:  Can you share, Matt, one of your personal productivity habits that others might benefit from?

Matt:  I take a break every 90 minutes no matter what I’m doing.

Ron:  How long?

Matt:  It varies. It’s really not about how long; it’s the very act of changing your space and your geography and your outlook and mindset. I learned a technique. It’s not my technique. I learned it from Tony Schwartz, who is CEO of the Energy Project. It’s called pulsing. There’s a lot of science behind it. It coincides with our biorhythms, which, we all know they happen during our sleep cycles.

We go through these roughly 90‑minute sleep cycles. They don’t stop when we’re awake. What happens is we get into a flow. We get into a rhythm. We’re hugely productive. We’re in the middle of a big project, and we forget that we need to rejuvenate every 90 minutes. Four hours into our day, we’ve not taken a break. Yet we feel the exhaustion coming on. We feel the stress building up, and that gets in the way of our creativity.

What do we do? We drink a Coke. We drink a Red Bull. We substitute what we should be doing with something synthetic. What I do, and I do this in my training sessions. If I have a daylong training, I make absolutely sure that we are never going beyond 90 minutes of learning or activity. I will take a 10‑ to 15‑minute break.

How do you do that at work? Gosh. Leave the building. Get out of the building. Go sit in your car. Go listen to music. Go take a daydreaming walk, a purposeful daydreaming walk. This is where our insights happen. This is where the great, sudden creative insights happen, where we get little ah‑ha moments, is when we’ve removed ourselves from the problem.

I pulse my work. I think it’s a great productivity habit. I actually ended up writing “The Laws of Subtraction” in six weeks using this method, versus six months that it took previous books using the good old method of “Pound through a day; let it seep overnight, go back, read it the next day, and say, ‘Oh my God. What was I thinking? I’ve got to scrap that entire day’s worth of work.'”

Ron:  How do you keep track of time? Simple question, but use your iPhone or what do you do?

Matt:  In a training session I will. But I [laughs] use a good old, old‑school wristwatch.

Ron:  You set an alarm?

Matt:  No. I don’t. Once you start doing this, and it’s sort of like those that can meditate, which is another productivity habit which I’m not very good at, so I won’t call it a habit. But there’s a certain, I don’t know, biological body clock that goes off that says, “OK, I’m ready to go back to work now.” It’s like you take a nice, deep, cleansing breath and you’re ready to rock on.

I don’t set an alarm, but in certain training sessions I do have a little built‑in alarm, because I do a lot of timed and time‑blocked activities.

Ron:  Matt, if you could only recommend one book, what would it be, and why?

Matt:  Boy. [sighs] Of all times, or just currently?

Ron:  Yeah. Man, you got one book to give someone who…and let’s keep it, maybe they’re interested in what we’re talking about ‑‑ making things better, innovating, certain things like that. In that scheme of life.

Matt:  OK. Maybe you’ve heard of this book, maybe you haven’t. It was written in the 1800s, and it is the original self‑help book, and it is called “Self‑Help.”


Ron:  I’ve not heard of that, no.

Matt:  It’s called “Self‑Help, with Illustrations of Character, Conduct, and Perseverance” by Samuel Smiles. It’s just as it sounds, S‑M‑I‑L‑E‑S. This was a book that was given to me at my time at Toyota by the chief operating officer. I have an old tattered version of it. It’s not a first edition, but it’s very close to it. It’s actually got an inscription in it that says, “June 18th, 1896. LC Travis, compliments of Mary Rose” someone.

It’s very close to a first edition. But…

Ron:  You can still buy it today, I’m assuming?

Matt:  Yes. You can find an online version of it.

Ron:  We’ll find it and link to it.

Matt:  It’s the ultimate…I think it’s…gosh. Every other personal/professional book sort of follows from this book, so that’s


Ron:  Thank you for sharing that.

Matt:  Sure.

Ron:  Last question, Matt. Imagine that you’ve been hired as the general manager of a company that’s struggling with productivity, quality, poor morale, just all kinds of problems. You were hired because of your past experience and past success. As it turns out, the CEO that hired you has given you complete operational control and trusts you to right the ship.

With this said, Matt, what would your first week and really your first day on the job look like? What would you do and why?

Matt:  That’s simple. I’d spend that entire first week empathizing. I’d be observing. Everything begins with observation, and observation can be done and carried out in a number of ways. I would not just talk to people and ask them questions. I would observe them working. I would almost become one of the folks that are having the poor productivity to the best of my ability.

I’d try and not just be a detective, but I would try and be an FBI profiler, to really and truly understand the struggles that are happening. I can’t do anything unless I completely and fully understand the length, breadth, and depth of the issues. That’s exactly what I would do. I’d play Sherlock Holmes. I wouldn’t do anything. I would go beyond a week. A week’s not enough.

Before coming onboard, I would tell the CEO that my window of turnaround might not be a year. It might not be six months. But it’s going to take me probably a couple of months just to understand the issues, before I can pinpoint the pain point. That’s actually…my company’s called EDIT Innovation, and the E in EDIT, it’s not just about subtraction. The E stands for “empathize.” Empathize, define, ideate, and test.

Before I can define a problem to solve, I’ve got to sort of become the problem. It’s sort of the Zen‑ness of it. Become the problem. Be the ball.

Ron:  Matt, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to visit with us. To close this show, why don’t you share some final words of wisdom, and then share how people can connect with you via your favorite social media outlets.

Matt:  I don’t know if I’ve got any more wisdom, Ron. I think I’m spent for the day.


Matt:  Let me circle back to what we talked about, and I would reiterate…because I love the card that you sent me, and the article of the Dickies CEO. How do you keep the main thing the main thing? I think that’s everything that we talked about. The easy way for folks to find me, just go to MatthewEMay.com. From there you can get anywhere.

Ron:  All right, well, thank you so much for taking the time, Matt. Really enjoyed this.

Matt:  Thank you.

Ron:  Really enjoyed this. Again, if you want to send me an invoice for the consulting…

Matt:  [laughs] That’s fine.

Ron:  …But you really did help me, and I hope it really did help the listeners out there as well. Hopefully we can connect again. Depending on when people listen to this podcast, again, we are going to be doing some webinars with Matt at Gemba Academy and you can learn more about those at gembaacademy.com/webinar. Sign up for those and you’ll get to see Matt and see his slides and hear him as well, so it’ll be even better than this.

All right. Well, thanks again, Matt, and take care.

Matt:  Take care. Bye‑bye.



What Do You Think?

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