“Human beings must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.” — Albert Einstein, German/American physicist.
“Ideas are a commodity. Execution of them is not.” Michael Dell, founder of Dell Computers.
When it comes to productivity and success, execution trumps all. No matter how well you’ve designed your mission/vision statement or planned out your strategy, nothing happens if you don’t get it done. Ultimately, I think mystery writer Agatha Christie said it best: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”
Christie took her own advice to heart, writing 72 books, 15 short story collections, and a long-running play, The Mousetrap. She’s still the best-selling novelist of all time, four decades after her death. And she accomplished all this while indulging her love for archaeology, spending many summers working digs in the Middle East.
You and your team won’t get anywhere if you allow anything to hold you back, be it procrastination, overthinking, perfectionism, or micromanagement. It’s time to spring into action! How would you rate your team’s ability to execute on its ideas? The ability to make ideas happen means the difference between success and failure.
So how do you and your team kick into high execution gear?
1. Don’t overcomplicate the issue. Select the easiest way to execute the mission. For example: during the Space Race, NASA spent a fortune developing a pen that could write in zero-gravity. The Russians used pencils that cost a few cents. Some Americans argued that broken leads could lodge in delicate equipment, but apparently it never happened. Grease pencils would have avoided the issue altogether.
2. Zero in on Action. Within the limits of simplicity, choose the path that lets you leap straight into action. The simplest and most-action oriented paths aren’t always the same. They can be; for example, a runner might discover a clear path that takes him straight to his destination in a quarter mile instead of a mile. On the other hand, if the shorter path is overgrown, full of potholes, roots, and boulders, it might be easier and more cost-effective to take the long way instead.
3. Make it practical. Someone else has already thought of just about anything you can think of. The real test of execution is finding a way to practically implement your ideas. Medieval alchemists dreamed of turning lead into gold, something we can now do—with a nuclear reactor and enormous amounts of energy. But it’s not practical, because it costs far more than gold is worth. Don’t let your quest for gold blind you to the practical realities of the situation.
4. Don’t obsess over the fine details. You need a basic roadmap, but need not plan for every eventuality. Just plan far enough ahead to get by, using generalized and flexible contingency plans, and handle the details as they pop up. You’ll never be able to plan for everything that might happen anyway. If the next step is practical, take the next step and test it out. You don’t have to have a plan from A to B to start. I’ve watched so many teams get bogged down on an idea, because leadership makes them plan it out with detailed work plans and budget. Make it up as you go!
5. Embrace flexibility. Never make success contingent on a particular step or item, or you may end up dead in the water. Always leave room for a workaround. If you can’t get what you need “off the shelf,” then at least make sure you can build it. Avoid all “for want of a nail, the kingdom was lost” situations. Similarly, if you can avoid depending on a particular team member, group, or vendor, do so. Find a way to go around them and get what you need elsewhere when circumstances require. Leave a little overlap in your plans, though not so much you duplicate effort or waste money.
Head, Meet Wall
It’s also critical to know when to give up. No doubt about it, persistence can be inspiring, if you’re a great artist or a cancer patient beating the odds. It’s not so impressive when you’ve mired yourself in the mud, spinning your wheels on something that will never profit anyone. Your duty is to help your organization prosper: period, end of story. Sometimes you need to know when to stop beating your head against the wall, because your head might break before the wall does.
Stop dragging your heels and get to it, selecting the easiest path to success, exercising simplicity, careful direction, practicality, speed, and flexibility on the way.
As always, I’d love to hear your take on the points I’ve brought up here. What are your keys for efficient execution?