Knowing which screw to turn


Like all great teachers, motivational guru Tony Robbins is a master storyteller. Of the many stories I heard him share when I worked with him and trained with him, one stands out for me. 

From memory, he told it about FedEx founder Fred Smith. The delivery service was using Memphis as a hub airport to fly all packages for the USA in and out of the same place. Early in this operation, all the conveyor belts came to a halt one day meaning that fleets of planes were standing by as were all the staff. The promise of next day delivery was seriously under threat and both the company’s reputation and its profits were in jeopardy. 

No one could fix the machinery so a specialist was bought in. He arrives and walks around the depot and Fred anxiously follows him. He then takes out a screwdriver, unscrews a panel from a central pillar and turns a screw inside. Immediately all the conveyor belts spring back into action. 

Fred is delighted and asks him what he owes him for this service. 

The mechanic turns to him and says: “$10,000.”

“How much?!” replies Fred, incredulous. “You have only been here a short while and didn’t have to come far.”

The mechanic replies: “Would it help if I broke the bill down?”

Fred replies yes. 

So the mechanic takes out a bit of paper and writes something down. After a glance at it, Fred goes to his office and writes out a cheque for the full amount. 

On the paper the mechanic has written: 

Breakdown of FedEx repair at Memphis hub: 
1. Turning screw $1
2. Knowing which screw to turn $9,999
Total: $10,000

Whatever you do for a living or whatever life you are making for yourself, it is always a question of working smarter not harder. Like the 80/20 rule that asserts that 20% of our effort results in 80% of our success, you need to focus on what works. Which screws to turn. 

What is in your toolkit that means that you can identify the right screws more quickly? What skills do you have and what actions do you take that have the most impact and deliver the most desired results? What are the time-wasters? What should you stop doing or in this analogy: which screws should you leave well alone?

It is not always about the value of work done (for example the time it takes and the materials that go into it) but the value of knowledge behind it and the end result that is crucial. Often performing a task is the smallest part of the process as it is the knowledge to correctly diagnose what is wrong or to know what will create the best return on investment that carries the real value. 

Try evaluating what you are skilled at, good at, best at and find the easiest to do. Then create opportunities to do this more and spend less time and effort on things that waste your time and energy. 

For each of us, the list will be different. Often you need the detached perspective and guidance of a coach to help you and I declare my self-interest here as this is something I LOVE to do with clients, so do reach out if I can help.