Execution is undervalued to innovation

I’ve been caught up in several conversations this week about the value of being innovative, versus the need to execute well. My observation is that since the dot-com boom, our culture has overvalued innovation at the expense of execution. Most things I read about business push leaders to develop innovative solutions. In the Boy Scouts, virtually every message has been about the need for innovation. The reality of most organizations is that while innovation is important, there are a relatively small few capable of meaningful innovation. They would get a much higher return focusing on execution: something almost anyone can contribute to, and where most inefficiency lies.

Will Amazon kill FedEx?
Amazon is example one in the argument for execution versus innovation. I don’t think Amazon is a particularly innovative company, but they execute better than anyone. In their quest to provide ever-faster delivery, they are starting to supplant carriers like FedEx with their own systems because FedEx (once seen as the paragon of American operational excellence) simply can’t keep up. They are an example that you don’t need to be inventing something totally new to be incredibly effective: you just need to determine what it is you’re going to do, and execute that better than anyone else.

The implosion of daily fantasy
I’ve never played a daily fantasy game in my life, but like every other person in the Western world, recall being bombarded by DraftKings and FanDuel commercials all of last fall. Outside the Lines has a detailed investigation on how daily fantasy is collapsing, and it reads much like you’d expect: hubris and initial success led to pushing the boundaries ever further, and eventually exposed the brands to massive liability. It’s a recurrence of the previous theme: innovation is valuable, but innovation without execution is a disaster.

Campus left and alt-right: allies?
Disdain for critical thought is the biggest danger to the civilized world. That’s true for Islamic authorities, communists or autocrats abroad, but it’s also true of the most polarized groups domestically, too. The American Interest this week asserts that whether on the the campus left (shouting about safe spaces and the "danger" of free speech) or on the alt-right (pushing a racist, nativist dialogue), the aim is ultimately the same: to rob Americans of the ability to engage in centrist, rational thought and instead subserve their views to a narrow, unwavering perspective of what is correct.

Ash Carter: credible deterrence is more important than ever
I pulled this old Vox interview with Secretary of Defense Ash Carter out of my “reading list” folder this past week. The most important theme running through his remarks was the need for credible deterrence: the world is safer if it knows how the United States will act to preserve its interests, and keep everyone else in line. This observation (which I agree with) was interesting, given President Obama’s interest in the opposite. I couldn’t help but think as I read through this (and saw John Kerry in the news, again, getting disrespected in Russia) that there’s a struggle between the State and Defense departments about American power in the world, and that under Obama, State almost always wins out. The Syrian red line jumps out as an obvious example of Obama’s deterrence failure, but even in reading Carter’s worries on China and Russia, I couldn’t help but think about how even our strongest allies in Europe seem to be perceiving an Amexit from global affairs, and planning for a world devoid of American hegemony.