Execution Is a funny word. Can either kill a man or get things done depending on how you use it. In fact, Wikipedia doesn’t even have a page on Execution. The first meaning they call by another name (capital punishment) and they don’t even acknowledge the getting things done part.
And perhaps that is what makes Execution (getting things done) such a delicious and alluring discipline to study and master. Because almost everyone takes it for granted and almost nobody takes it seriously.
There are 4 reasons why Execution is such a difficult discipline to understand, and then master.
First, Execution is what life is made of, it hides in plain sight. Ergo, it is not visible. Ergo, it is not sexy unless we have the eyes for it.
We will experience the lack of good Execution in its absence; go back to the bad dining experience, or a delivery gone awry, or a bad meeting that you come out of thinking what a waste of time. We will be able to tell when we see great execution; that perfect concert, or perfect gameplay, or an exquisite piece of art. But, we will almost certainly never be able to tell why and how something was executed really well.
That brings me to my second reason. Execution is a difficult discipline because reality exists at a surprising level of detail. Think of anything that needs to be made or done. With reasonable certainty, for everything, we will have to go down at least five levels deep to bridge the distance between the abstraction of the finished product or action and the absolute tangibility of its building block. Our brains are not trained to handle that level of complexity, which makes us prone to not care about the details.
At the heart of any Execution problem is the matter of persistent & constructive probing. All 3 words are important here. Without persistence, we would give up too soon. In the absence of it being constructive, frustration and blaming are likely to set in blocking a potential solution. And last, the goal is to probe so that we get a better understanding before we attempt to fix it.
And that is reason three. One can be persistent, constructive, and probing only about matters one is deeply interested in. We are only deeply interested in a few things and by design, there will only be a few things we will be able to execute well.
Last, Henry Ford once said, ‘Whether you think you can or can not, you are likely right’. We can do things only if we believe we can. Our agency – the belief that we can bend the universe or certain parts of it to our will and our willingness to do it, is essential to the act of execution. Until we do, it is a struggle to discover, experience, and develop our agency. But once we do, it cannot be unseen.
In summary, if one has enough agency, is genuinely interested in something, can sweat the details, and is observant and attentive enough, one can get shit done!