Virtual Voices
H. Ross Perot in 1970.
Associated Press/Photo by Marty Lederhandler
H. Ross Perot in 1970.

Doing is much harder than describing

Business

“I’ll give you five cents for the person who can identify the problem—that’s the easy part. I’ll give 95 cents for the person who can fix it,” H. Ross Perot told an audience of Harvard Business School students back in the mid-1970s.

Those students sat in stunned silence. For two years they had been taught that identifying the real problem, determining all the possible solutions, evaluating them thoroughly, and then picking the optimum one was 99 percent of the job. But in just 60 seconds, a self-made billionaire with a high-pitched nasally voice burst their bubbles.

Were the thousands in tuition they paid to Harvard wasted, and the preparations for three cases each day worthless? Was Perot saying that identifying the right problem, considering every alternative to fix it, and then picking the best one was useless? No. He was saying that implementation is paramount and making the chosen alternative work is the toughest part of the job. Planning the right moves, picking the right people, keeping everything on schedule, communicating clearly, sticking to a budget, holding managers accountable for results, fixing glitches without missing a beat, and motivating are the most critical elements in any assignment.

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Yes, it’s true that doing the right things well is more important than doing things right. But many times even an inferior strategy fulfilled precisely works better than the premier solution executed poorly.

Most tennis players can teach a perfect forehand shot, but few can consistently hit one. Many can visualize a gourmet meal, but few can prepare one. Golfers know to square the clubhead but can’t do it. Why? Doing is much harder than describing.

Many hamburgers were better than McDonald’s in the 1960s, but Mickey D’s out managed them all. D-Day was successful not because the strategy was brilliant, but because leaders on the ground, sea, and air achieved their objectives creatively and with determination. Before I bought my first company I looked at more than 200 businesses, none of which had exceptional strategies but most were extremely successful with simple approaches implemented with precision, consistency, and discipline. Their owners were not geniuses, just good implementers.

Perot understood what professors and politicians miss. Making things happen is much harder than talking about what ought to happen. Politicians with high-sounding ideas are a dime a dozen—one who could run a successful Baskin-Robbins outlet is rarer than a unicorn.

Mankind was called in Genesis 1 to rule over the earth. Ruling is doing. God didn’t say ruling would be easy, but He has said implicitly how it’s to be done. We’re to do it as His emissaries, His regents. We do it in a way that will satisfy the Lord of the Manor. That means that it’s not enough to simply talk, preach, teach, and prescribe solutions; we must get our hands dirty in the most difficult part of the work—the implementation. As James wrote, “We must be doers” as well.

Bill Newton
Bill Newton

Bill is a pastor based in Asheville, N.C. He also serves as a member of God World Publications' board of directors.

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