One of my (guilty?) pleasures is film. Most weekends, I can be found at the movies with an extra large bucket of popcorn and a supersize drink. And during the awards season, my love of film goes into overdrive. Whether I’m watching a gritty independent production or a more forgettable blockbuster, this is usually a time when I can put the stresses of the working week to the back of my mind and lose myself in the story.
But last month, during an apparently vain attempt at some escapism, I heard a line in a film (and can’t for the life of me remember what it was – answers on a postcard please), which stated: “Without strategy, execution is aimless. Without execution, strategy is useless.”
I couldn’t help but be reminded – at least initially – of Liz Mellon and Simon Carter’s feature for Dialogue on page 76 of the current issue, where they launch the article citing research suggesting as much as 90% of strategies fail to deliver their intended results, 95% of the workforce says they do not understand the company strategy and 70% fail at execution.
But the comment about aimless execution and useless strategy, is an overarching theme of this issue of Dialogue. Take our focus on big data (page 28) for instance: our authors go so far as to suggest that in many cases, leaders trying to make sense of a deluge of data go into it with no strategy or hypothesis to prove – and are therefore doomed to fail to gain credible insights from data. Mike Canning, in his column (page 16), talks about the importance of setting a bold vision – but the perhaps greater importance of recognising the interplay between action and interpretation.
After some journalistic research, I found out that the aforementioned comment is originally attributed to Morris Chang, CEO of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), and I was pleased that Hollywood had picked up on such an intelligent remark…
But taking this case of life imitating art a little further, the more I thought about it, the more I began to move to the opinion that Hollywood’s heroes seem to be getting the balance of strategy versus execution right. Regardless of your opinions on the ethics of characters such as The Wolf of Wall Street’s anti-hero Jordan Belfort (played by Leonardo Di Caprio), or American Hustle’s Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), it’s hard to disagree that both these protagonists have a strategy in place within the opening minutes of each film. Without wanting to give the plot twists away, the characters both execute a strategy throughout their respective storylines, with varying degrees of success – one evades prosecution and one ends up behind bars.
The common thread is that they set a strategy and, without the need for unending circles of meetings, conference calls, emails, memos and “sign-off”, stick to a plan of execution.
Would this be an Oscar-winning performance in the world of business?