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When vision and strategy execution fail

Updated: Jan 5, 2023

“- What immaculate models! - she exclaimed entering the exhibition space. - How unapologetically depressing these buildings are.. - She shook her head, while making one step closer and then away from the photographs hanging on the wall.”

Futurism is an appealing area of consulting with a growing number of public and private sector organizations seeking competent (hopefully) advice of the futurists, to ensure their organizations are future-proof for any calamity, i.e. actual market forces and consumer behavior influenced by evolving technologies. Yet even without going into detailed semantics of advisory field, one would easily agree that any strategy does always imply a component of the future. You don’t develop a strategy for the past, then it is called an alternative history and the smartest of us would hardly have any influence there. There is one thing that leads to a strategy fail, making the organization's vision look fictive (odd and utopian as we will see from real-life example).

An example

The brief monologue described a paragraph earlier was a part of the scene I had a chance to observe during my last trip to NYC together with a group where we discussed among other things future technology, markets, and governance. Yet the very exclamation part took place during cultural part of the trip, at the Museum of Modern Art, where “Toward a Concrete Utopia Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948–1980” exhibition was on display.

The exhibition was comprised of dozens of models, photographs, drawings, from “ reconstruction of the city of Skopje based on Kenzo Tange’s Metabolist design, to the new town of New Belgrade”. The precision, clarity of the vision reflected in carton models and multiple sketches was captivating, every object (in-draft) was incontestably a forward-thinking expression of a client and architect symbiosis. Far not every drawing was destined to be realized in real life. Yet those constructed - had a rather weak resemblance with the original vision - proportions were preserved, and yet in its vast majority the buildings were merely inspiring, looking more odd than visionary.

Missing the context

We omit completely the historical and political aspects of the above projects, rather let an important notion of strategy execution come forward - it was not the mastery of an architect or technical capabilities of an engineering team on their own that let original strategic thinking to get eroded. It was the result of strategy execution without taking the context into consideration.

Implementing a given strategy without understanding the situation within which an organization with its strategy exists, capabilities of the organization today and tomorrow, i.e. context, can lead to “unapologetically depressing” results.

Grasping and working with the context

Naturally, the question to pose this moment - How can we understand the context better in order to succeed in vision embodiment and strategy execution? Below I am sharing a short readings list on this matter - including crisp business management recommendations and lengthy historical narratives.

  • Article. One of my favourite summaries was published by Donald Skull and the team in 2015 - exploring the five common beliefs that dilute manager's focus on the context, supplemented with practical recommendations of dealing with the myths - "Why Strategy Execution Unravels—and What to Do About It" by Donal Skull, Rebecca Homkes, and Charles Sull.

  • Video. Learning from history. Time let us assess when the context was overlooked. "Heroes and History: Lessons for Leadership from Tolstoy's War and Peace"

  • Book. Learning from history more. Book provides a detailed chronography of one of the most remarkable campaigns of Napoleon era. With its bold strategies, fierce execution and overlooked context. "Bonaparte in Egypt" by J. Christopher Herold

  • Book. This one is the narrative of our time, called by Penguin Randon House "a study in power, strategy, and one of the most wildly ambitious–and successful–secret plots in recent memory". Relevant to the subject of this LinkedIn note in the context of how sometimes strategy execution takes longer time (staggering decade in Peter Thiel case), when a person or group of people to be more accurate is carefully tracking the context dynamic, which would ultimately prevents the painful slips and project failure. "Conspiracy" by Ryan Holiday.

Finally, the source of inspiration of this note - "Toward a Concrete Utopia Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948–1980"


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