Your Great Ideas: Dime a Dozen
Executing Your Plan: Rare as Hens’ Teeth
Young mouse: We will put a bell around the cat’s neck, so we hear
Old mouse: ’Tis well said, but who dares bell the cat?
The quarterback hands the football to the halfback. Two guards pull from the offensive line and lead him around the end. The tight end blocks the linebacker on that side. Here comes the power sweep.
The Green Bay Packers, winners of the first two Super Bowls, ran the simple power sweep over and over: 28, left; 49, right.
Adapted by Vince Lombardi from the old single wing offense, the play was strategically mediocre. It was simple, and easy to recognize. Opposing defenses knew the Green Bay power sweep was coming at them several times a game. They just couldn’t stop it.
The reason was execution. Due to constant repetition in practice and on the playing field, the Packers executed the play brilliantly. The Green Bay power sweep: a mediocre plan plus sound execution creates excellence.
Alternating days of Bikram Yoga, weight training, and swimming a mile is a brilliant plan for getting fit. It uses all the muscles, is interesting, lets you buy three different cool outfits, and is guaranteed to give anyone under seventy a great body. Just walking for thirty minutes every day: mediocre.
Which program do you think most of us will be more likely to stick to over the course of a year? Those Speedos won’t get the job done from the closet.
We are going to make baby food from organic local vegetables; we are going to use only cloth diapers; we are going to iron those diapers; we are going to play classical music for baby every day; and we are going to employ only college graduates as babysitters. A brilliant plan for raising a healthy child. Fuhgeddaboudit.
How about: we are going to keep our children reasonably clean and properly clothed and fed. We will read to them when we can, not scream at them when we are exhausted, and take them to the doctor when they get sick. We will do our best to let them know they are loved. That is a plan most parents can pull off. Hey baby, let’s try that.
Physician Atul Gawande writes about the yawning gap between our nation’s ability to develop breakthrough therapies for disease and our ability to make them effective. Huge advances are made in medicine. Brilliant plans are written for improving public health. What is overlooked by government, foundations, and academia is blocking and tackling, the boring—crucial— task of execution.
Our approach to health care resembles the flea flicker: an entertaining, elaborate, and unpredictable football play. Anything but the simple Green Bay power sweep. Result? We are way behind.
New discoveries and new ideas are vivid and inspiring. They fill us with enthusiasm. We forget to plan the work of making them work. We forget about the laborious adaptations and manifold disappointments of personal development. The bright idea is fascinating. Execution is boring, the opposite of Easy and Magic. But like Easy and Magic, bright ideas will not get us past Day Four.
Stop trying to bell the cat! Use the free Gumptionade Worksheet #11 “Unbend Your Spoon” to overcome the damage that has done to your self improvement plan.
i. Physician Atul Gawande writes about the yawning gap… Atul Gawande, “The Checklist,” The New Yorker, December 10, 2007.