May 2015

Zen and the Art of Growing Fast Companies

By Jay W. Vogt

Jay VogtCEOs of fast growth companies must sometimes feel like Zen Masters. They face chaos and change every day, and must do so with equanimity. They possess exceptional vision and insight that they must convey to those around them, even though that may at times be quite hard. And they typically demand absolute authority, and accountability, to the task at hand.

The Zen Master I came to know best was Korean, and his English was not great. He distilled the essence of his teaching into three imperatives, which he repeated with frequency, his clear eyes blazing. He would declare, “Correct direction!” assuring us that true aim was essential to the growth of consciousness. Next he would insist, “Only go straight!” reminding us that focus, and fidelity to the true aim, was critical to success. Lastly we would plead, “Together action!” imploring us to make the hard work of walking this path easier by traveling it with the mutual support of others.

Fast forward to my work with CEOs of fast growth companies, which I support with the discipline of the Rockefeller Habits, as described by Verne Harnish in his book Mastering the Rockefeller Habits. John D. Rockefeller traced his success to three habits, which bear an eerie similarity to the insights of our Zen Master.

His first habit was priorities, or “Correct direction!” An enterprise needs clear purpose and values, an audacious vision, and measurable five-year, one-year, and quarterly goals. Without these it will squander limited resources, and meander toward objectives that don’t support the growth of the business. Brilliant clarity of priorities is essential.

Rockefeller’s second habit was data, or “Only go straight!” An enterprise needs clear data, linked to its objectives, so it knows quickly when it is veering off the narrow, fast path to success. Without data the business can’t understand the source of its own vitality, and can’t sustain and nourish it. A regular diet of data feeds the enterprise.

Rockefeller’s final habit was rhythm, or “Together action!” An enterprise needs a regular pattern of daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual meetings that engage the right participants in tracking the right data to map progress toward the right priorities, while making mid-course corrections as necessary to stay on track. Without a rhythm of meetings tied to monitoring data, the business can’t tap the extra collective power of its people to recognize and solve problems, and to innovate and create improvements. With rhythm, a venture builds momentum toward growth and never loses it.

These three habits come together in the One Page Business Plan, a simple yet powerful tool for creating and communicating focus. It starts as a blank template that can only be completed by engaging in the central questions raised by the three habits. Think of the template for the One Page Business Plan as embedding the intelligence of a Rockefeller and a Zen Master, and you may glimpse some of its power.

Our Korean Zen Master’s imperatives tie the nectar of enlightenment to the immediate tasks at hand. So Rockefeller’s habits tie the sweet joy of business success to the work that must be done Monday morning. Chop wood, carry water. Set goals, track data. Zen and the art of growing fast companies.

Jay W. Vogt is president of Peoplesworth and author of Recharge Your Team: The Grounded Visioning Approach by Praeger. Contact Jay at