Many observers from the left and right of the political spectrum have begun to question whether President Obama has embarked on an overly ambitious set of initiatives. Is his agenda overcrowded? Does he have to set some priorities? As Clive Cook points out in the Financial Times today, there may be many good reasons to pursue such an ambitious agenda right now, but the system may not have the administrative, legislative, and political capacity to handle so many initiatives.
CEOs certainly have gotten in trouble in the past when they have tried to do too much at once. Crowded agendas mean that one does not excel in any particular area, because management attention and organizational resources become spread too thin. Many new CEOs, in particular, fall into this trap of trying to do too much. the organization often does not have the capability to execute so many different initiatives at the same time.
GE's former CEO Jack Welch describes the need for focus and persistence in his book, Jack: Straight from the Gut. In that book, he explains how GE pursued four major initiatives in the 1990s. Each was clearly not a "flavor of the month." The initiatives lasted for years, and the entire firm focused on executing them. Too many firms try to pursue dozens of initiatives simultaneously, and no one is quite sure what the priorities are.