His eminence, Peter Drucker, once said, “Strategy is a commodity, execution is an art.” As for me, my Ph.D. dissertation was labeled by my committee as the “first [Stanford business school] dissertation on the topic of implementation.” My subsequent research at McKinsey & Co., which led to In Search of Excellence, was an out and out exaltation of execution/ implementation/people and culture first, and thence a frontal attack on McKinsey’s Holy Grail, developing scintillating strategies for clients—and letting the doing take care of itself, which, of course, rarely occurs. A number of the firm’s power players wanted me fired. They eventually got their way, but I got the last laugh: the rather significant sales of my book with Bob Waterman.
Given that history, you may understand why I started this brief “You like, I like” compendium with: “You like strategy. I like execution.” That one is followed by fifty-one additional—and mostly contrarian—pairings.
Enjoy. And I hope what follows provokes some thought. And, hey, it was fun to write. I will plug away on these issues—ever more important—until, more or less, my last breath.
YOU LIKE STRATEGY. I LIKE EXECUTION.
You like strategy.
I like execution.
You like big gestures.
I like small gestures.
You worry about disruption.
I worry about the next five minutes.
You like systems.
I like people.
You think the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.
I think the shortest distance between two points—when people are involved—is a twisting, turning path with hairpin turns and dead ends.
You like to “get to the point.”
I like kindness.
You like answers.
I like questions.
You like “sticking to the script.”
I like unbridled curiosity.
You think “we pay our taxes.”
I think our responsibility to the community is enormous—taxes are but a first step.
You think “we need to work on the gender issue.”
I think we must make a “hard commitment” to 50–50 gender balanced boards and executive teams within 36 months.
You think women can be good managers.
I think women on average are better managers than men—and better salespeople, negotiators, and investors.
You think sustainability and the war on climate change “is an issue.”
I think sustainability and the war on climate change is the issue.
You think “we gotta take more cost out.”
I think “we gotta put more value in.”
You say design is “prettification.”
I say design is nothing less than soul.
You say design is “the final touch.”
I say design is the starting premise and at the top of mind in every step in the product-and-service development process.
You want to “hammer the competition.”
I want us all to succeed by doing great work.
You think it’s a STEM world.
I think in the main, if true distinction is the goal, it’s a liberal arts world.
You like “Do it because it’s your job.”
I like “Thanks for the extra effort.”
You say, “Thank you” is fine—but “don’t overdo it.”
I say it is impossible to overdo it!
You like to “get down to business.”
I like to take the time to engage one and all in the issues at hand.
You say, “finish it up” and move on.
I say the “last five percent” makes all the difference—and takes lots (and lots) of time.
You like your office.
I like the shop floor.
You like people “who get to the point.”
I like people who think before they open their mouth.
You like the noisy ones.
I like the quiet ones.
You like the people in the first row who constantly raise their hands.
I like the people in the last row taking copious notes.
You like speed.
I like excellence.
You think culture is “important.”
I think culture is a flourishing garden which must be watered daily.
You think the development and maintenance of relationships is “not insignificant.”
I think the development and maintenance of relationships must be a “daily obsession.”
You want a technical group to be peopled with folks who have sterling technical backgrounds.
I want a technical group peppered with poets and musicians and artists and theater majors.
You like a resume with no gaps.
I like a resume with false starts and fresh starts, dead ends and detours.
You like people who read Forbes and Fortune.
I like people who read Dickens and Ishiguro.
You “try to find time” to read.
I follow the dictum of fanatic studenthood and read and read—and read some more.
You like those who “get it done on time” no matter what must be sacrificed.
I like those who settle for no less than excellence, regardless of the task or the timeframe.
You think excellence is “a hill to climb.”
I think excellence is the next five minutes.
You like “Let’s figure out who screwed this up.”
I like “I’m sorry.”
You like people who dream in spreadsheets and process maps.
I like people who dream about helping others accomplish things they never imagined possible.
You like org charts.
I laugh hysterically whenever I see an org chart.
You insist on putting the customer first.
I insist on putting the people who serve the customer first-er.
You are determined to fix what’s wrong, and therefore emphasize the negative.
I am determined to build upon what’s right, and thence emphasize and emphasize—and then re-emphasize—the positive.
You like “but” (“yes, but . . .”).
I like “and” (“great, and let’s keep going”).
You think training is an expense.
I think training is our Investment #1.
You have a fit when a well-trained person leaves.
I throw a party when someone good leaves to take an amazingly cool job.
You see the front-line boss as the keeper of law and order.
I see the cadre of front-line managers as Corporate Asset #1—the premier developers of people, and thence responsible for productivity, quality, innovation, and excellence itself.
You promote the ones with the best technical skills.
I promote the ones with the best people skills.
You say, “leave your personal issues at home.”
I say we benefit from a caring environment that celebrates and is enhanced by 100 percent of who you are.
You think management is about getting the most out of people.
I think management is helping people succeed beyond their wildest dreams.
You like generals and admirals.
I like privates and sailors.
You say follow the rules.
I say make new rules.
You say, “don’t waste time.”
I say most creativity and engagement and commitment comes from milling about and indirection.
You sprint through the day like a soldier on a forced march.
I leave gaps in my day (up to 50 percent according to one guru) to allow for reflection and chance occurrences.
You see failure as, well, failure.
I see failure as something to be celebrated—the signature and hallmark of rapid tries and thus all innovation.
You think the top priority of an enterprise is profitability.
I think enterprise profitability is a derivative—the top priorities of an effective business are moral behavior, developing people beyond their wildest dreams, being a sterling community member, and providing products and services that “make our world a little bit better.” (FYI: These priorities in fact underpin the demonstrably highest long-term growth and profitability.)
Over to you . . .
Inspired by my new book, Excellence Now: Extreme Humanism