The Path to Effectiveness – Part II

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ef·fec·tive·ness /iˈfektivnəs/ noun

1. the degree to which something (or someone) is successful in producing a desired result; success.

In his book, The War of Art, Steven Pressfield introduces us to Resistance. He opens his book with this introduction: “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.” Pressfield’s book is targeted toward creatives who struggle to produce the art hiding within them but his concept of Resistance is relevant to anyone who seeks to be effective.

Last week’s post, The Path to Effectiveness – Part I, defined effectiveness as knowing the right thing to do and then finding a way to get it done. The process starts with a vision for the future. With a vision, we can begin to determine the things necessary for us to bring it to fruition. The path to seeing the right things centers on:

  • Knowledge
  • Awareness
  • Insight

Having a sense of direction and identifying the “right” things on which to focus is very important. However, a major barrier appears when we start to zero-in on our path to effectiveness and, at its heart, sits Resistance.

Change and Complexity

In twelve years of our roller coaster existence as a high growth company, we’ve seen one constant in the marketplace: resistance to change. When you’re just getting started, the pushback typically centers on obscurity, experience, size, proof of capability, or simply time in market. As you grow, endure, and develop more compelling solutions, the resistance shifts to focus or fear. Will we focus enough to evaluate what you’re offering? What are the risks if we change?

As humans, we have a natural aversion to complexity or, at least, to perceived complexity. When confronted with something different, we tend to retreat due to fear of the unknowns or simply due to our ability or willingness to dive deeper to understand. Our tendency is to want things broken down to the least common denominator and if we can’t easily compare features in our spreadsheet, we retreat to status quo.

This surface skimming approach may simplify our lives but it blinds us to innovation or opportunities to improve. We want things in snippets and soundbites rather than doing the deeper thinking necessary to evaluate more complex, and potentially compelling, options. In short, we want easier options that require less effort on our part.

The Biggest Barrier

As much as we resist change, there is an even more challenging barrier on our road to effectiveness and, here, Steven Pressfield’s insights become profound. In this place, Resistance brings its considerable powers against us to hamper our ability to execute, to actually do the work. Pressfield writes:

“There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.”

As individuals, we find all sorts of ways to avoid doing the work that leads to being effective. As organizations, the challenge is multiplied. Even after we’ve identified the direction in which we want to move and the right things that need to get done, the challenge of execution still remains.

And execution is a huge barrier. Simply getting things done is the single biggest limiter of effectiveness.

We’re a bunch of talkers. We love to meet. We can generate ideas. We enjoy our whiteboards. We sit around the table, take notes, discuss, listen, observe, outline, plan, and even agree. Then we move on to the next meeting. A few more meetings appear through our day and guess what? Nothing actually gets done.

The problem isn’t laziness. The problem isn’t that we don’t care. The problem isn’t that we aren’t smart or insightful or aware. As hard as it was to focus on finding a way forward, actually focusing on the execution of that way forward seems to be even more difficult. Time flies and the hard work of thinking and then acting seems to be the biggest casualty of the passing hours.

Our Struggle With Resistance

I see this every day. As individuals, we struggle with the normal Resistance: procrastination, distractions, waiting until we feel like it or waiting for inspiration. As organizations, Resistance becomes even more insidious as it distracts us in meetings, conversations, and activities that seem important but do little to increase our effectiveness. The struggle is real. If you doubt it, do a search for planners or time management. We’ve created an entire industry to help us fight Resistance.

We know where we’re going. We have a sense for what needs to be done. How do we overcome our resistance to change and the Resistance that hampers our ability to execute?

I think the only way to overcome resistance to change is to give ourselves time to think. We spend very little time in deep thought on anything in particular. We run from what we see as complex because it looks like it’s going to consume too much in time or energy as we work to understand it.

Investing quiet time to contemplate the new will yield insights on options considered and not yet considered. Until we take the time to understand and to quit retreating from the hard work of thinking, we will always encounter resistance to change: individually and organizationally.

The Answer to Resistance

And there it is: work. It seems that the answer to Resistance is action. Beyond ideas, the biggest barrier we see for individuals and organizations trying to achieve anything is the ability to execute. I say “ability” but that isn’t really the right characterization – most have the capability. The real challenge is mustering the will to execute. Bringing our will to bear involves focus and effort. Until we act, Resistance wins.

As I read the paragraph above, I feel a compulsion to delete it as too simple and insultingly obvious. That is my own Resistance talking. In conversation after conversation, the brutal challenge of execution recurs as a major stumbling block to the forward motion of humanity. Even in cases in which great ideas or opportunities are identified, many never move past discussion because their implementation seems like too much work.

Yes, I said “too much work.”

Many people pass on projects because they don’t have the time or energy to implement. This happens to us in our personal lives as well as our professional lives. This happens to us as individuals and as organizations. In our work as innovators, we’ve discovered that bringing a great concept to the table is not enough. We have to be able to show the path and walk the path with our clients. Sometimes, we have to execute on behalf of those with whom we work. Occasionally, we have to drag a project across the line. That is execution.

We can see an example of the “execution barrier” in our approach and use of today’s massive volumes of data. “Big data” was hyped as the key to answering everything. Data analytics are all the rage and we now find ourselves drowning in information. In the employer health world, data is produced in such volumes as to be nearly meaningless. Why? Because no one is looking at it and much of it is not actionable.

And often, when we do find an actionable insight, the hard work that it calls for creates a barrier to execution. In spite of our great data or profound insight, we are still rendered ineffective because it’s just too much work. For those of you looking to solve problems out there, the execution barrier is a huge opportunity. For those in organizations wrestling with effective execution, solving the problem of focus and will presents a path to distinction among your competitors.

The Path to Effectiveness

Back to effectiveness and Resistance. Pressfield tells us that on the other side of Resistance is our life unlived. That life unlived is a life of effectiveness – movement toward a desired result. The path to effectiveness is not a onetime stroll. It is an ongoing, day-to-day battle, with Resistance – everything that holds us back from the result we are pursuing.

Effectiveness is knowing the right thing to do and finding a way to get it done. In a world of possibilities, we may always wrestle with accurately identifying the right things. However, we can always control our level of action. Our world is full of those who cannot or will not execute. Be different. Be someone of action. Do it persistently, and the world will be astounded at your effectiveness.

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