Dear CMO:

We are in love with our own ideas. We often return and gaze at them for hours, losing time and purpose. We share these ideas with others because we’re passionate about them and need to share how the world could be, or will be, after our idea has sprung to life. But over time our elusive preconceptions often fade in the brutal light of budgets and execution.

Execution has two decidedly different implications: the first is the conclusion of an act, the other the conclusion of a life. And without the first, you’re destined to be the object of the second.This is an important point.

I’ve been guilty of this many times in my career and I’ve seen it frequently. It seems particularly common here in the marketing world, probably because we’re creative sorts and like to hear ourselves talk once in a while, but more likely because we’re the ones in the organization upon whose shoulders the most urgent need for creativity lies. Positioning, messaging, imagery, metaphors, simplification, iconic imagery, influence, demand generation, excitement, deep engagement and the like all fall in our bucket. So when we go off on a tangent, we really go off.

There are too many examples of this phenomenon to list out in an exhaustive encyclopedia of the half-baked. We all know a handful of anecdotes that speak to this point. A recent one for me came from the good discussions in which I recently participated at The Daily Fix, Brandchannel, and below on Project (RED). I picked up Jeffery Sach’s book, “The End of Poverty” to get a deeper understanding of the underpinnings of the program and had the chance to read a wonderful case study of a seductive idea and a half understood road ahead.

The “End of Poverty”, for example, gives us a quantified cost of righting the wrongs in rural Kenya of $70 per person per year. The issue of corruption never seems to come up and when it reluctantly enters the stage it is dismissed as an annoyance. “If we could only sit down and develop a mutual understanding, achieve real transparency, and do some good, all this would just go away,” it seems to say. Reality is different. Corruption is real. It can’t be obscured or mitigated by words, no matter how well it helps to tie the argument together. And this is the real lesson.

We must all do more than just cursory due diligence on how our seductive dreams are to become reality. Pretending that corruption isn’t a problem is delusional. Pretending that your sales team is qualified to call on C-Level officers of Fortune 500 companies when they spent the last 15 years of their careers selling commodities to entry-level staff does little more than irritate everyone. Launching a new format into a crowded field just because you can is a waste of time and money. Yet these things happen every day.

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Key Takeaways:

> Seductive ideas are important but we all need to stay honest with ourselves about how they can and should be put into play. We must spend as much time on the execution as we do on the creative. We must find a way to deal with corruption, or strategic capacity shortfalls, or properly positioning a new format so that they have a chance of winning.

> We must be honest with our team members and our management, as well. We have the mutual responsibility of discovering the way forward . We are all pathfinders. No one has carte blanche to endlessly repeat the refrain, “we did that before and it didn’t work,” which is little more than an admission that the speaker’s execution failed.

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For additional inspiration on this and many other points, I’m happy to point you to Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan’s excellent book, Execution. My old professor from Wharton, Larry Hrebiniak, has also penned a book on execution based on his wonderful (and required) course on implementation.

It’s natural and actually very important to be seduced by inspiring ideas; hopefully, we can all feed off of the inspiration long enough to find a way to get it done.


Copyright (c) 2007 Stephen Denny