Under the time-honored principle of management by exception, the organization runs itself until divergence from plan triggers off a warning signal. However, in today’s complex organizations, equipped with overly elaborate planning and control systems, warning signals are constantly being triggered. Giving the attention of top management to each (the implicit consequence of matrix structure) means dissipating the company’s sense of direction.

The first principle implies that senior management’s task is to select from the organization’s possible agenda no more than one or two plausible, important thrusts; develop effective commitment for the choice; and then focus the organization’s energy and attention, within reasonable limits, on testing and implementing the implications of the chosen direction. Effectively limiting the agenda, then, multiplies the chances of effective implementation by mustering energies behind a clear and sensible thrust. Selecting the thrust demands no certain prescience. What it does require is a willingness to set temporary priorities and tolerate internal ambiguity while the thrust is being tried out.