Don’t replace “thinking” with “execution”

It can be common at some companies for execution to be the norm. (More on this in a second.) I’ve done 51 episodes of my podcast now, and usually the feedback I get from listeners is that they like the sections where the guests go over actionable, tactical items. In other words: execution. People want to know how to achieve something — the steps and processes — because often that’s most important to their rank/level (and theoretically most important to the company scaling successfully). But what if there’s a better approach?

The lost art of thinking

An article from MIT’s Sloan School of Management entitled “The Lost Art Of Thinking In Large Organizations” sums this up very well. Consider this paragraph:

How did we arrive in a state where managers do not recognize that thinking is part of their job? The answer reflects a relentless focus on execution in many large companies. A company becomes big by finding a successful business model — and then scaling it massively. This necessitates building a finely tuned system with highly standardized processes. To get promoted in such an environment requires an almost singular focus on execution. In other words, it requires action more than thinking. However, once executives are promoted to a senior level, these new business leaders must be able to think strategically. Ironically, the very skills in execution that led to their promotions often make these executives ill-equipped for their new roles, since their strategy thinking muscles have withered from disuse.

Yes, and all too common. So now what?

How to think more when doing CX

First of all, since CX is inherently about the customer is responding to what you make or do, you need to talk to the customers. It’s impossible to achieve anything in this field if you don’t do that.

Talking to the customers will give you a lot of new thought patterns and off-shoot ideas. It’s very valuable as opposed to just going heads-down on task work all the time.

Secondly: take time and break once in a while. The maximum ceiling on human productivity is about 55 hours/week, even though many of us go over there each week. The optimal ratio for workload management is 52 minutes on a task, 17 minutes off it. There — I even just gave you some social media breaks.

Third: always fit CX into the strategy of the business and use the same vocabulary as other stakeholders — then, over time, navigate them to your vocabulary. If the plan isn’t tied to any strategy or revenue generation, no one will care.

Fourth: take walks. Seriously.

Fifth: remember that work is ultimately about the quality of what we produce, even though many confuse that with having a high quantity of things to do. Always focus on the quality. In CX, the guiding question might vary by company, but it should always be some variation of “How this will impact the customer?”

What other ideas have you seen to facilitate more thinking in your orgs?

2 comments to " Don’t replace “thinking” with “execution” "

  • Willie Pietersen (who runs a think tank and is the author of ‘Reinventing Strategy’) provided a class I attended at Columbia a memorable insight: “Strategy and Planning are a poisonous combination.” What he meant by this is that the two should never be done at the same time.

    My advice to readers would be a rewording of your headline to: “Don’t combine thinking and execution.” Strategy creation is the deepest form of thinking. It is a divergent, creative process, meaning you are setting out to do something that differs from what you currently do. It needs to be separated from planning and execution, which are convergent processes. Creativity is not welcome. Strategy creation / deep thinking needs to be done well before your budget cycle, with no pressure to fill out budget forms. I have been in too many sessions that were intended to be about strategy creation that were disrupted by someone saying, “Look, we have to submit our budget on Friday. Just give us the templates to fill out. We don’t have time for all this BS.”

    • Jeanne Bliss

      Maurice, thanks so much for your thoughtful feedback. Your reworded headline makes complete sense. You are spot on.

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