Hang out, for any amount of time, in the C-suite of a Fortune 500 firm and it quickly becomes apparent that there are two strategic camps. On one side of the floor, a group of executives believe that the key to winning lies in innovation. While the faction on the other side of the suite is adamant that to out-compete you must out-execute. In business, as in life, such binary thinking is a trap.
Then descend the long stairway down into the bowels of the organization and you will experience an operational gulf. A chasm between the front-of-the-house and the back-of-the-house (i.e., front and back of the value chain). While fancy programs will be created with phrases like “Seamless Enterprise” to imply that there is an end-to-end connection across the business, the reality is that the front side and the back side (up stream and down stream) don’t connect.
The trash heap of under-performers is littered with examples of once legendary companies that fell prey to this binary trap; in essence, only able to operate on one side of the ledger. From _____ to _____ (insert your own examples of under-performing businesses), each became overly weighted to one side – in most cases, the execution side of the balance sheet.
The most extraordinary companies are great at both, displaying a finesse in toggling fluidly between innovation + execution. What these winners point to is the truth that we live/lead in a “both-and” world. Beyond “either-or”, winning demands we be facile enough to master the art of innovation and the science of execution. Together, these twin powers allow an organization to rapidly scale, building the collective capacity to accelerate growth and dominate the marketplace.
Look at Apple, the poster child of innovation, if ever there was one. They would not be the world’s most valuable business/brand if they weren’t able to execute. Honestly, their ability to make things happen is breathtaking, as evidenced by: 460 + stores opened across over 15 countries in 17 years; and 10 generations of iPhones launched, with over 1 billion sold over the last decade. Every time Apple releases a new product, their website, storefront, sales strategy and supply chain all change over simultaneously.
And herein lies the greatest opportunity known to leaders in the 21st century – the wherewithal to build an organization that possesses the agility and the capacity to innovate and execute at the same time. This calls for leaders – and leadership teams – to keep their head up (continually scan the horizon for the next big idea or trend) while driving the team to deliver against an impossibly aggressive set of milestones.
This is the next era in modern management. An integrative paradigm that creates unparalleled value and meets the unexpected challenges of our jagged age, head on.