Mar 10 2007

An Execution Problem

An Execution Problem

My biggest takeaway from the TED Conference this week is that we — that is to say, all of us in the world — have an execution problem.  This is a common phrase in business, right?  You’ve done the work of market research, positioning, and strategy and feel good about it.  Perhaps as a bigger company you splurge and hire McKinsey or the like to validate your assumptions or develop some new ones.  And now all you have to do is execute — make it happen.  And yet so many businesses can’t make the right things happen so that it all comes together.  I’d guess, completely unscientifically, that far, far more businesses have execution problems than strategic ones.  Turns out, it’s tough to get things to happen as planned BUT with enough flexibility to change course as needed.  Getting things done is hard.

So what do I mean when I say that humanity has an execution problem?  If nothing else, the intellectual potpourri that is TED showed me this week that we know a lot about the world’s problems, and we don’t lack for vision and data on how to solve them.  A few of the things we heard about this week are the knowledge — and in many cases, even real experiences — about how to:

– Steer the evolution of deadly disease-causing bacteria to make them more benign within a decade

– Build world class urban transportation systems and growth plans to improve urban living and control pollution

– Drive down the cost of critical pharmaceuticals to developing nations by 95%

– Dramatically curb CO2 emissions

We have the knowledge, and yet the problems remain unsolved.  Why is that?  Unlike the organized and controlled and confined boundaries of a company, these kinds of problems are thornier to solve, even if the majority of humans agree they need to be solved.  Whether the roadblock is political, financial, social — or (d) all of the above — we seem to be stuck in a series of execution problems.

The bright spot out of all of this (at least from this week’s discussions) is that, perhaps more than ever before in the history of mankind, many of our most talented leaders AND our wealthiest citizens are taking more of a personal stake in not just defining the problems and solutions, but making them happen.  They’re giving more money, buiding more organizations, and spending more time personally influencing society and telling and showing the stories.  It will take years to see if these efforts can solve our execution problems, but in the meantime, the extraordinary efforts are things we can all be proud of.