A number of years ago I did a small project for a top 10 business school. As part of that engagement I had the opportunity to interview a graduate student, and I asked him to summarize what he had learned at the business school. The student replied:

Think daringly.
Execute steadily.

His four simple words captured what should be right, but is often wrong, with strategy. He noted correctly that first we need to think daringly.

For some of us, this can be a real challenge. Our comfort levels, our paradigms, and our general reluctance to tilt at windmills prevent us from thinking daringly. We are like Captain Barbossa in Pirates of theCaribbean, who says to Jack Sparrow, “You’re off the edge of the map, Jack. Here there be monsters.”

Others of us, however, are quite willing to think daringly. We have no shortage of ideas, and many of them are truly great. This leads us, of course, to the second challenge: executing steadily.

A former colleague was an idea junky. He constantly hopped from one idea to the next. He was a daring thinker, but a lousy executer. He just couldn’t follow through.

Early in my career, I thought that higher education suffered from too few truly daring ideas.

Now I know better. We don’t suffer from a lack of great ideas. Rather, we suffer from a lack of execution. As one college president reminded me, “When all is said and done, more is said than done.”

Great leaders know that great ideas that are not executed have absolutely no value. None. Zip. And while great leaders value great ideas, they value great execution even more.

Unfortunately, higher education has no shortage of barriers to execution.

On a lark, I Googled the phrase “barriers to execution.” Here is what I found:

  • Inability to decide on and agree to a course of action
  • Studying the problem too long
  • Managing distractions
  • The need for consensus
  • Tackling everything at once
  • Lack of dollar, time, and talent resources

Taken singularly, these barriers do not seem insurmountable. The collective whole, however, can be daunting.

Maybe this is why daring ideas are so important; because ideas of lesser stature don’t have the power to overcome all these barriers.

Any maybe this is why people who can execute are so valuable. They have learned that most barriers really aren’t.

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