Our brains are hardwired to make much of modern life difficult. This is especially true when it comes to dealing with uncertainty. On the bright side, if you know the right tricks, you can override your brain’s irrational tendencies and handle uncertainty effectively.
Our brains give us fits when facing uncertainty because they’re wired to react to it with fear. In a recent study, a Caltech neuroeconomist imaged subjects’ brains as they were forced to make increasingly uncertain bets—the same kind of bets we’re forced to make on a regular basis in business.
Consider the recent article, “Why Strategy Execution Unravels — and What to Do About It“ by Donald Sull, Rebecca Homkes, and Charles Sull, in the March 2015 issue of HBR. Articles like this are well meaning and all set out to overcome the shortfalls of “execution.” But they all fail, including this one, and for the same reason: you can’t prescribe a fix for something that you can’t describe. And no one can describe “strategy execution” in a way that does not conflict with “strategy.”
Blaming poor execution for the failure of your “brilliant” strategy is a part of what I’ve termed “The Execution Trap” — how “brilliant” can your strategy really be if it wasn’t implementable?
Daniel Kim was the CEO at online game company Nexon America when he had a career epiphany that changed his life. His mentor Bill Moggridge, founder of the design firm IDEO, had recently passed away. It was at Moggridge's memorial service at Stanford in 2012 when Kim had a moment of clarity: What was most important to him wasn't being at the top of his field or making as much money as possible, it was doing meaningful design work—the kind of work he simply couldn’t do as CEO at a gaming company.
Kim did the math. If a design project takes three to four months and he had between 25 to 30 years left in his career, he realized he only had time for about 100 new projects. Put in those terms, time, he realized, was of the essence.
Tim Carr, an American working for a defense company based in the midwestern United States, was about to enter a sensitive bargaining session with a high-level Saudi Arabian customer, but he wasn’t particularly concerned. Carr was an experienced negotiator and was well-trained in basic principles: Separate the people from the problem. Define your BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) up front. Focus on interests, not positions. He’d been there, read that, and done the training.
We know that we need good business acumen, but we also need to have the emotional intelligence that allows us to effectively serve and care for team members. We also need to be competent, and we need to be able to inspire others with a positive visio...
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