Take your time

10 May 2011
The killing of Osama bin Laden, almost 10 years after 9/11, demonstrates that deeply desired outcomes require determination and patience. We live in a curious age, in which the dreams of science fiction writers are becoming true – video calls on your shiny new iPhone, anyone? Truth and fiction are hard to disentangle, as rumours and “news” spread around the world at the speed of light. I picked up my newspaper recently and saw a photo of President Obama, the vice-president, the US defence secretary and a team of advisers gathered around a video screen watching live pictures of US navy seals storming Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan. It looked like a still from one of those Harrison Ford movies – Patriot Games, or Clear and Present Danger – only this was the real deal. It’s a long way from those scenes in Washington to the offices of ordinary professional people. But it is possible to draw inspiration from the way in which President Obama and his team went about their work. There are at least three lessons worth mentioning. First: purpose. This was a project almost 10 years in the making, the determined pursuit of a deeply desired outcome. We are slave to “quick wins” too often in business. Some things take time. Second: calm. That photo I mentioned: there is tension, yes. But also calm. And third: execution (I mean action, not actual killing). In business, execution matters more than just about anything else – even strategy. We can’t all be Obamas, or even Harrison Fords, but we can try to maintain our purpose, keep calm and carry out our plans as best we can.   'Some things change, some stay the same' The drama in Pakistan was almost enough to wipe that other dramatic global event from our memories – I mean of course the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, which took place in London only 48 hours before the attack on bin Laden. Any management writer would be impressed by the organisational agility the Royal Family has shown over the years. The mythology surrounding them has been created and reinvented again and again. Politicians and fashions come and go – the Royals remain. Continuity and change: these are the twin goals of businesses and organisations. The Windsors (or Saxe-Coburg-Gothas, as they were until the middle of the First World War) have cracked them both. Look at those pictures of the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge driving off in an Aston Martin borrowed from his dad: cool, informal, and modern. Never mind a referendum on voting reform. If you took a vote on getting rid of the monarchy right now it would lose by about 10 to 1 I reckon. How many businesses could claim to be so popular with their customer base? “Some things change, some stay the same”, as I have remarked in this space before (quoting Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders). Successful businesses, like The Firm, know this. They keep what they have to keep, but they are prepared to jettison things (or people!) and move on when they have to. ☛ Stefan Stern is director of strategy at PR firm Edelman and visiting professor of practice at Cass Business School
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