Execution Vs. Excellence


Facebook Design’s affirmation “Getting it done is better than doing it perfect” is found throughout company’s offices. When I heard this phrase I instantly contrasted it with the adage, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.”Both ideas, unfortunately, are wrong.

It’s easy to generalize, but accurate to contextualize. The best solution to the Polish vs. Produce debate is fluid: “Have as much quality as you need, and nothing more.” This is disturbingly true with airline safety; planes are initially built to be as safe as possible, with safety features gradually removed to reduce cost while still adhering to safety regulations. Even if you’re not starting an airline, this lesson is ideal to remember as an entrepreneur.

What are you training for?

There’s a strong debate to execute ASAP (lean methodologies are all the rage), to release incomplete software and source user feedback for improvements: capture more utility and reduce opportunity costs by satisfying VS maximizing – which can take forever. In his TED talk “The Paradox of Choice,” Barry Schwartz argues that with exponentially growing options, the drive for a perfect decision can be overwhelming and actually limit one’s options. Just acting, or “settling for satisfying” is the way to go. At some point, he says, pull the trigger and get on with your life.

That’s usually true, and a critical factor for budding companies. When you’re resource constrained, making due with a prototype will get you farther than exhausting your cash to achieve a level of unattainable polish. In my early days of marketing, I’d loathe to send anything less than a robust and detailed customer service letter. But do cranky customers really need all that? Most people are satisfied with an acknowledgement and brief answer. They move on, question answered. Even condensed quick replies are better than nothing when you’re running to the next appointment and need to just get it done.

But there is a pitfall to things like Lifehacker’s Done Manifesto: A lack of excellence.

What’s more impressive?

•New phones in 2011: 35 Nokia models or 1 iPhone?
•Ten quick jogs, or running a marathon?
•U Phoenix’s 319,000 undergrads, or Stanford’s 6900?

Launching an inferior product just to slap the execute button can make you look stupid. Do you really have the requisite skill to have your product hold up to established top dogs of the industry? Are you actually going to be proud of your creation? If not, how can you expect others to be? Is more really better?

Don’t confuse busy with productive. Satisfaction from crossing items off a to-do list is amateur; fulfillment from a major, polished accomplishment is well deserved and lasting.

If you were hiring a bodyguard, would you prefer someone who “got” his black belt from a 3-year program, or a lower ranked, dedicated martial artist who lived and breathed his practice?

The joys of execution can easily mask the more substantive benefits of the lasting, the truly complete. The key to balanced productivity and true mastery lies in accurate discernment and prioritizing of what will have the most scalable impact.

What to Execute:
Basic communication
Brief tasks that enable others’ work (or restrict it if left undone)
Filler content
Basic Operations

What to Polish:
Platforms and mediums for future work
Hallmarks (What you’re known for)

A basic rule of thumb: If you do it often, just get it done. If you do it rarely, if it’s supposed to stand out, spend more time on it. Learn to instantly judge the ripple effect your action will have over time. The more ripples, the bigger the stone and better your aim.

If you’ve not enough bandwidth to truly polish what matters, check out Randy Pausch’s lecture on Time Management. It’s more practical than his inspiring Last Lecture, and is very specific.

AwakeBlogger’s enhanced Covey Matrix.


Clarify your intention before blindly swinging just to hit the ball. True, growing a startup requires many quick, often unpolished executions, but evolving into a stylish, world-class, premium quality and thriving company demands a foundation of stone.