Getting things done: Do more, talk less

walt disney

My last two days were spent in a workshop, where we were tasked to generate new ideas to keep our business ahead of the competition. The participants were super excited and energetic, exclaiming “Oh! We should do this! And that! And this as well!” With ideas plastered all over the conference room, it finally came to creating action plans to ensure these project ideas come to fruition. All of a sudden, the energy faded. Nobody wanted to step up to lead and execute. There were some soft murmurs and offers to support, advise, or consult, but no one wanted to DO.

In my experience, we spend way too much time talking about what we want to do, why we want to do it, how we want to do it, and what could go wrong if we do it. After hours, days, months, or even years of talking, nothing is done. As the Texan saying goes, it’s all hat and no cattle. Or, as Thomas Edison, who invented the electric light bulb and held over 1,000 U.S. patents, eloquently stated:

Vision without execution is hallucination.

When you’re working in the business world, you simply can’t afford to have endless meetings and consultants talking about what should be done. If you don’t do anything, then your competitors will. And eventually you talk yourself out of a business.

The business school education system exacerbates this problem. As this Harvard Business Review article astutely points out, business schools focus too much on creating and publishing scientific research rather than equipping business practitioners with practical skills. When I was in business school, there were no classes on sales, which is the oldest and most useful skill you need in business. However, there were a ton of classes that studied philosophies regarding investment techniques or strategy development. Professors tend to get tenured because their research is widely published rather than because they built successful companies. Students are encouraged to write several iterations of their business plan before actually starting a business. On top of that, most MBA grads go into jobs in consulting or investing, which involve talking about what a company should do or about which company they should invest in. More business school grads should actually run businesses, whether they are the CEO / co-founder in a start-up or a product manager in a giant tech company.

On a daily basis at work, how can we focus on getting things done? How can we talk less and do more?

1. Eliminate useless meetings: For me, this is the biggest time suck. If someone schedules a meeting without clear objectives and agenda, press the decline button. If someone schedules a meeting with too many people for an effective discussion and decision-making, press the decline button.

2. Reduce consultants: This includes internal and external consultants. I was on a project last year where there were 6 consultants and only 2 doers. That is ridiculous and a complete waste of time for the doers. Move the consultants, so that they either become doers or they are simply informed. You have to earn your right to be involved.

3. Ask for forgiveness rather than permission: People spend alot of time talking because they are afraid to make mistakes. They need to make sure all of the relevant stakeholders are aligned and agreed with the decisions, and then they start to execute. The problem is that often it’s too difficult and time-consuming to align ALL stakeholders. The longer it takes, the less competitive you become. Therefore, once you have the few key stakeholders on board, just go for it. If some people are peeved, then so be it. You did what you thought would be the best for the business and your customers.

4. Just do it: Ok. I recognize that even writing this blog post I am talking about doing something. Therefore, whatever it is you want to accomplish, as the famous Nike slogan goes, just do it.

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