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Execute, yes, but execute for the future

Not long ago, we heard the leader of a big organization say “strategy is easy.” “Execution,” he said, “is the hard part.” That set our teeth on edge. As futurists, we have to be vigilant that organizations don’t execute the wrong strategies, and they often make strategy without enough foresight.

“Let’s roll,” were Todd Beamer’s heroic words on Flight 93 over Pennsylvania that kept the 9/11 terrorists from one of their Washington targets. That mindset continues in organizations where frustration with deferred changes and unmet opportunities have leaders intent on execution. Their leaders believe they know what needs to be done, and they are people who want to take action. 

There’s nothing wrong with execution
The groundswell in leadership right now about execution is an understandable reaction to organizational frustration with not getting change implemented. The movement stresses successfully carrying out new strategies by becoming more effective in turning ideas into action.

The leadership literature on execution, e.g. Ram Charan, Charles Burck, and Larry Bossidy’s Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done (2002), focuses on closing the gap between aspiration and results. Again, it’s hard to argue with that.

But look a little closer. We stand in danger of trying to perfect our organizations for the present or even the recent past. We really have to build them better—indeed execute better—for the emerging conditions and realities we will face.

Despite improving economic prospects, organizations will almost certainly continue in the “let’s roll” mindset. Foresight needs to not get lost in the wave of energy for execution.

What you can do
You may need to catch up with and keep up with those who are intent on implementing organizational change and keep them focused on changing realities. Your role in challenging assumptions about the future is still critical.

You need to help leaders have things to do, not just more things to think. Some examples:

  • Prepare a whitepaper on critical forces of change for the executive team
  • Encourage the chief to attend Microsoft’s CEO summit or another forward-looking event
  • Create a learning trip to places where important changes are observable first hand
  • Work with those responsible for executive development and succession to build foresight into the skillsets of future leaders. 

So find the new openings for foresight in the culture of execution. Let’s roll!

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