“An idea can be as flawless as can be, but its execution will always be full of mistakes.”
– Brent Scrowcroft
Every entrepreneur knows that great ideas come relatively easy, compared to the execution required to develop the idea into a profitable business. As author Sue Grafton said many decades ago:
“Ideas are easy. It’s the execution of ideas that really separates the sheep from the goats.”
The Challenge of Execution
Entrepreneurs are rarely short on determination. They are hungry, focused, talented and determined to succeed against the odds. Having been lucky enough to work with some of the most successful, determined individuals on the planet – ranging from leading attorneys to battle-hardened special forces personnel to traders at the very top of the global investment tree, I have no hesitation in stating that many entrepreneurs pursue their goals with equivalent levels of determination and resilience.
Yet despite this determination, so many entrepreneurs fail because they never manage to consistently execute in a manner that propels them toward success. Though much is written about strategy, as well as featuring heavily on most MBA programs, little is taught about execution. This results in entrepreneurs consistently spending time and energy doing the wrong things at the wrong time in the wrong way.
Software Isn’t the Solution
Ten years ago, when working in a startup, my number two was a very experienced and highly effective executor who had consistently ensured that multi-million dollar projects for large global companies were delivered on time and on budget. This included a complex tech project valued at over $100 million.
Although she used a Gantt chart religiously (even to run her personal life), she always maintained that successful execution was about mindset, and that no software program could ever be a substitute.
When Life Gets in the Way
There are many reasons why entrepreneurs fail to execute successfully, with a range of solutions available. One of the most common causes of failure is life getting in the way. This includes both an entrepreneur’s personal life and professional life. Things that are urgent (but not necessarily important) will take precedence over activities that while critical to startup success, are not seemingly urgent as they can always be done tomorrow.
The human condition is such that things that are urgent have a disproportionate feel of importance. Couple this with a tendency for people to be reactive, and urgency will always trump importance. Nothing short of reviewing each urgent issue through the filter of, “Is this also important?” will ensure that you win the battle of urgent versus important.
When Focus Leads to Failure
Another common barrier to effective execution, that I have noticed when working with entrepreneurs, is a laser-like focus on the goal being pursued, at the expense of focusing on the daily processes that are critical for success.
It is obviously important to have clear, measurable goals that are written down and reviewed on a regular basis. When working with clients, I often use processes grounded in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and neuroscience to help instill the goal deep within a person’s psyche. This increases their drive, and resilience to the inevitable obstacles that get in the way when you try to achieve something great.
But at the same time, it is important to understand that an obsession with achieving a specific goal or outcome can cause an entrepreneur to apply insufficient focus to something that is far more important – the identification and consistent execution of the key processes that are essential to achieving the goal.