To think, to plan, to innovate…
But, to innovate successfully there is an important factor one needs to address.
The key – is in the execution.
For, without execution, the best laid plans are naught but…plans…
In our own work, as data continues to roll in from our InQ diagnostic, we’re consistently finding that one of the lowest scoring overall competencies is execution.
But what is it to execute?
The carrying out or putting into effect of a plan, order, or course of action (OED)
To execute is – at base (and forgive the pun) – to deliver on the basics. Like Gladwell’s 10,000 hours, execution is a craft – honed through practice.
(Credit: Wikipedia Commons)
And, like a craftsperson – the more an organization executes on innovation the more it becomes an integral part of their practice – part of their raison d’être. Similarly to great artists, sublime execution is dependent on a mastery of the basics. The devil is in the detail.
At its finest then, execution passes from science and through to the realm of art – an organization is able to deftly navigate changing markets and internal and external environments to deliver on innovation over and over again. With Apple we have seen this transition occur over time: from the scrappiness of the execution of the 1980s through to the sublime nature of the execution in the 2000s. Relentless iteration and focus on detail is at the base of their greatness.
And it is at this juncture that the two aspects of an organization – the repeatability of its processes via its business model and its quest for the new and the innovative – come together.
While often seen as opposing forces, at their best they actually are mutually constitutive: where innovation and execution become bound together in an upward spiral of expanding excellence.
But like all aspects of an organization, execution is always open to examination. As the environment changes so too an organization must change – in all its functions. It must continually adapt how they execute, fearlessly embracing change as they strive for execution excellence.
Execution is thus both the ‘subject’ and ‘object’ of innovation:
- - the ‘object’ in that one ought to be continually refining and innovating on your ability to innovate; &
- - the ‘subject’ in that once innovation has been created (no matter in what part or aspect of the organization) then it needs to be executed.
But in order to achieve this level of craft an organization needs to commit to a degree of self-reflexivity. They need to commit to undertaking routine self-examination to see what of their processes and structures serves their desire to execute on innovation and what does not. To prototype, to experiment, to trial: through these processes organizations strive to increase the excellence of their execution. Like the sculptor and their work, the sculpture emerges through this process of experimentation and continual refinement from maquette to sculpture – an evolution.
Like any artist, a well-functioning organization is willing and able to clear away that which clouds the real focus of their art and of their value production.
To execute well is to provide value to all – including those involved in the act of execution itself. For as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe himself said:
A really great talent finds its happiness in execution.
And, to provide true value one must make choices about what serves and that which does not.
That which merely exists to exist is removed to enable the clarity of the real intent of the artist or the organization to shine through. That is the mark of the self-reflective artist or organization. That is the mark of the truly great artist or organization.
(Credit: Striated Ruby)
Just as through ‘Lean’ we seek to eliminate waste, to eliminate anything that does not add value to the customer, organizations must pare things away to the most basic. In this process, they must simultaneously ensure that what remains is only that which is required, that which satisfies — in the most fulfilling sense of the word. This is the mark of the well executing organization.
We are never beyond a focus on the basics – for to lose a focus on the basics is to lose the essence of one’s very own organization. Do you know what is most basic for your organization? Find that. Focus obsessively on that. The market is littered with tales of woe of organizations that lost their way and faltered – what of General Motors and ‘the decade of recall’, all the more pertinent now.
The basics are where greatness is built: via the sweat and toil of both the artist and the organization striving for improvement and development – to be the best that they can be. Look, for example, to Levi’s – the producer par excellence for denim wear.
To execute well – in terms of innovation or more generically – requires an ongoing focus on the basics and a relentless belief in the need for ongoing change and development. One must be always hungry—for the world waits for no-one.
To change is to grow and innovate through execution. Therein lies the seeds of greatness.