Mastering Specificity: Bridging the Gap from Vision to Execution for Enhanced Team Performance

Mastering Specificity: Bridging the Gap from Vision to Execution for Enhanced Team Performance 1200 844 James Knight

This article explains how the gaps from Vision to Execution can cause significant issues in your team—and what you can do to solve them.


Often, issues between managers and their reports arise due to a gap in “Specificity” — the level of abstract vs. concrete thinking a person is most comfortable with. You can think of this as a spectrum, with the most concrete, detail-oriented people on the far left and the most abstract, big-idea people on the far right.

Low v. High Specificity

Highly specific thinkers require concrete tasks with well-described details. If given an abstract request, they may become overwhelmed and either freeze or choose the first option that comes to mind. However, when given a well-defined task with clear success criteria, they excel.

Low specificity thinkers are the opposite. They thrive with poorly defined tasks. Detailed requests may disinterest them, leading to procrastination and potentially incomplete tasks. Yet, when presented with an unsolved challenge, their interest is piqued, and they are energized into action.

Low to high Specificity — moving from WHY to WHAT to HOW

As you move along the spectrum from high to low specificity, individuals’ primary interests change. Highly specific individuals focus on HOW — they care about implementation and its details.

On the far right, low specificity individuals concentrate on WHY — they are more concerned with the problem and understanding why it exists.

Between the two, individuals focus on WHAT — solutions. They are greatly interested in understanding what will be done at a high level to address the issue.

This spectrum can also be seen as a range from Vision (low specificity) to Execution (high specificity), with Strategy in the middle (mid specificity). Vision answers WHY, Strategy answers WHAT, and Execution answers HOW.

Seats on the Spectrum — The Visionary, Architect, Conductor, and Contributor

In modern organizational lingo, the lowest specificity seat on the spectrum is often called the “Visionary.” These individuals love big ideas and asking big questions but are not concerned with how those questions are answered or implemented.

Moving up in specificity from the Visionary, we reach the Architect. This role sits at the border between WHY and WHAT. Architects translate the vision into a low-specificity WHAT for the team below them, focusing more on the big picture and less on the details when reporting back to a Visionary.

Continuing upward, we encounter the Conductor, who sits at the border between WHAT and HOW. Their primary job is to receive the strategy from the Architect and translate it into executable tasks for their team. When reporting up the chain, they should focus more on the strategic picture than on the tasks themselves, assessing the success of the underlying strategy rather than merely reporting on the tasks.

At the far end of the Specificity spectrum sits the Contributor. Focused almost exclusively on the HOW of a task, their job is to execute the task assigned by the Conductor to the best of their ability. When reporting back up the chain, they should concentrate on the task’s success (or failure) rather than the details of its execution.

Ensuring the seats are covered

A good team covers the entire spectrum. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean four separate individuals occupy each point. In reality, most team members will fall somewhere between these points and have a range of specificity in which they’re comfortable working.

In real life, few people are full Visionaries or Contributors. Likewise, for Conductors and Architects in the middle. Visionaries must be comfortable operating at the Architect level, while Contributors need to understand the reasons WHY they’re doing WHAT they’re doing to avoid being micromanaged.

A good Conductor should meet Contributors halfway and step up towards Architects, helping them understand the team’s capabilities. Architects, in turn, need to shift towards the Visionary to develop inspired strategies.

Understanding where an individual sits on the specificity spectrum is key to recognizing how they can best contribute to the team.

Gaps in Specificity

Many team issues arise when large gaps in specificity occur. If nobody sits at the border between Vision and Strategy, the Vision and Strategy will be poorly aligned, resulting in a team with low Perception. If nobody occupies the border between Strategy and Execution, the Execution will be poorly targeted, leading to a team with low Control.

Teams with low Perception struggle to get the right things done, while teams with low Control struggle to get anything done at all. More often than not, low Perception and low Control are caused by large specificity gaps within the team.

Filling the gaps

As teams grow, it’s essential to monitor how Perception and Control change over time. Misalignments between Vision, Strategy, and Execution often stem from large gaps in Specificity. Filling those gaps, either by finding individuals capable of filling them or by training individuals on either side to increase their range, is crucial to resolving these alignment issues.

Individuals who can fluidly move from one level of specificity to another, at least on short time scales, make excellent candidates for leadership. A Visionary who refuses to get their hands dirty or a Contributor who needs detailed instructions for every task is not an ideal leader.

The ability to move up and down the spectrum, even if most comfortable operating at a specific point, demonstrates an understanding of the value that aligned Vision, Strategy, and Execution provide. This adaptability is a strong indicator of leadership potential.

Understanding Specificity

Understanding and managing the Specificity spectrum is crucial for effective team collaboration and success. By recognizing the different levels of specificity — Visionary, Architect, Conductor, and Contributor — and ensuring that the entire spectrum is covered, teams can optimize their Perception and Control. This enables them to get the right things done and execute tasks efficiently.

Addressing gaps in specificity and fostering adaptability among team members are essential aspects of building a strong and aligned team. By mastering these concepts, leaders can create an environment that nurtures growth, fosters innovation, and ultimately drives outstanding performance.

Solving for Specificity

Take a look at your team: where does each member sit on the Specificity spectrum? Where do you have gaps? And what can you do, as a leader, to help fill them?

Need help identifying and understanding these gaps?

Why do Founders Often Struggle to Be Heard?

Why do Founders Often Struggle to Be Heard? 1024 655 James Knight

The MICE quotient is an invaluable tool for understanding the story you’re telling.

It’s a concept that comes from fiction but applies equally well to sales and marketing.

By understanding the four MICE conflicts, founders can turn their vision into a captivating narrative.

Good stories are the same — in fiction, non-fiction, or copy. They all revolve around conflict.

The MICE quotient describes the four primary sources of conflict you can use:

1. 🗺️ Milieu
2. ❓ Inquiry
3. 🦋 Character
4. 🌋 Event.

Let’s explore each one:

🗺️ Milieu conflicts focus on the setting of the story.

A Milieu story begins when our character(s) enter a new place.

It ends when they exit.

In Milieu conflicts, the struggle to leave entertains and educates us.

For products, Milieu stories are about our customers returning to a place of comfort.

Something has changed, and they’ve entered a new, scary world.

Our product helps them return to the one they came from.

❓ Inquiry conflicts focus on a question.

An Inquiry story begins when our character(s) discover a question they don’t know the answer to.

It ends when they find that answer.

In marketing, Inquiry stories are best used to entice the customer into reading more.

We open the loop with a question they’re dying to know the answer to (“But how?!”).

We close the loop when we’re ready to move on to the next big question.

🦋 Character conflicts focus on character transformation.

They begin when our character becomes dissatisfied with their life or their circumstances.

They end when the character transforms into the person they want to be.

Character stories are best used as the over-arching narrative our customer moves through.

At the start, they’re not achieving their full potential.

They want more.

Our product or service helps them become that better person.

🌋 Event conflicts are all about changing the status quo.

Something big has happened. Our characters have to respond.

Event conflicts begin when the status quo is threatened.

They end when the character is returned to the status quo or to a better version of it.

Event conflicts are great for discussing your company’s role in the narrative.

They’re perfect for answering “why now?” What changed in your customer’s world to make your product relevant today?

In 2023, there are plenty of “events” to use in your stories.

The pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the explosion of AI.

Each one of these threatens the status quo and provides new conflicts your customers have to navigate.

Understanding the MICE quotient can help you craft compelling stories & captivate your customers.

Use the 4 conflicts:

1. 🗺️ Milieu
2. ❓ Inquiry
3. 🦋 Character
4. 🌋 Event.

And watch your vision spread to customers, investors, and the world.

Early-stage founder?

Recession, Who Cares? – Why Founders Should Embrace the Recession, Not Run From It

Recession, Who Cares? – Why Founders Should Embrace the Recession, Not Run From It 1024 667 James Knight

Recession. A big scary word.

When the economy shrinks, there’s less for everyone. Less money in the money stream. Fewer jobs on the job tree.

When markets slow, growth slows.

But not for startups.

Recessions are macro-level events.

They affect the market as a whole.

If you’re at market scale (think Google or Amazon), then they affect you greatly.

Google (~30% of online ad revenue) and Amazon (~40% of online retail spend) are the market.

They’re macro-level companies.

But startups aren’t macro-level.

Macro-level changes aren’t evenly distributed.

Even if the system as a whole is trending one way, parts of the system can trend the other.

Global temperatures have risen ~1C since 1900 [1].

But 2022’s winter storms brought record-lows in many American cities [2].

These aren’t contradictory.

Recessions are no different.

Just like the climate, it’s possible for some areas to cool while others experience record heat.

Startups just need to go where it’s hot.

Macro changes cause migrations.

Rising temperatures in Burgundy threaten the world’s greatest Pinot Noirs.

But that same warmth in England is helping them produce quality sparkling wine for the first time in history.

Startups should be planting in England, not farming in Burgundy.

What does this mean for founders?

For the first time in a decade, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft have hit the PAUSE button on their growth.

They’re not throwing piles of money at every tech hire in the country. They’re not investing in new, risky industries.

They’ve shut themselves in the cave, hoping to wait out the winter.

The biggest predators in the woods are sleeping.

As a founder, recessions shouldn’t scare you.

Change runs through your veins.

Fuck the Macro. Embrace the Micro.

Early-stage founder?