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Obsessive Learning, Relentless Execution—The Yin And Yang

by David Brock on January 7th, 2015

My post, “Top Performers, Obsessive Learning, Relentless Execution” has stimulated a lot of discussion on both the blog, LinkedIn, and through email.  I thought I’d continue to expand on this topic.

There has been some discussion about which is more important–Learning or Execution.  It’s an important issue, I think they are inseparable.  Stated differently, it’s kind of a Chicken/Egg thing.

We see lots of people who focus on one aspect, perhaps Learning.  They study and study.  They read everything they can.  If confronted with a specific problem, they collect data, analyze, collect more data, analyze—-somehow they know a lot, but they never take action on what they have learned.  Too often, these people are paralyzed, they can’t make a decision, they can’t convert that knowledge into action, they are worried about the risks of failure.

On the other hand, we see too many people blindly executing every day.  They do what they’ve always done, even if what they’ve always done is no longer working.  They make their 50, 100, or whatever calls.  They get the same results, they don’t change their approach but keep executing–working the numbers, but otherwise oblivious.

We see lots of action oriented people–but ill prepared and don’t accomplish much of anything.  We see people focused on action, any action, but they don’t analyze what’s happened, learn, adjust or adapt.  Consequently, they fail to achieve goals.  Too often, we reinforce blind execution with our activity metrics, so people achieve those goals, yet fail to accomplish anything.

But to produce results and sustaining that performance over time requires us to be continually learning and executing.  Our learning informs how we execute.  The experience we gain from execution causes us to learn.

Perhaps unconsciously we do this.  We try something new, it doesn’t work quite right, we adjust, do it again, adjust.  But too many seem to have stopped learning and developing.  Part of the proof to this is the endless blog posts and articles on this.  Or we fail to do keep trying and executing.  Part of the proof of this is the “New Year’s Resolution phenomenon.”

Where top performers are different is their obsessiveness and relentlessness with which they attack and integrate learning and execution.  They don’t separate them, but I think they consciously look at each.

We hear words like  driven, purposefulness, focus, passion, hunger, intensity, commitment to describe aspects of these behaviors.  They may talk about agility, pivoting, adapting, changing, coming back from failure or other descriptors of how they execute.  Organizations may express these concepts in terms of continuous improvement, innovation, or other terms.  Lean startup thinking embraces these concepts in MVP, pivots, agility, and so forth.

Regardless how we describe these attributes, everything comes back to very focused learning and constant execution.

So what does this mean to each of us?  The obvious answer is continue to learn, act, and improve.

But here’s a way to get started.  Be obsessive in preparing for the next meeting you have.  Prepare, be focused on what you want to achieve, focus on the participants–what agendas, biases, ideas will they come into the meeting with, what issues are they facing, what concerns are they likely to have.  Think about what do we want to accomplish and how do we most effectively accomplish it.  Walk into the meeting as well informed and prepared as you can be.  Execute the agenda.  Then afterwards, assess what happened, analyze the meeting, what worked, what didn’t, what would you change, how could you possibly improve the outcome.

Then do the same thing for your next 10 meetings.  Look at the improvement, make it a habit.

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