Knowing-Doing Gap: When Memory Substitutes for Thinking!

The most expensive words in business

This week we continue to look at the knowing-doing gap and why there is frequently a gap between knowing something and actually turning that knowledge into action.  This article is based on the research work of Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton on how smart companies turn knowledge into action. Of course we can also learn from this how smart people turn knowledge into action. Last week we learned about smart talk and how this can be a trap which leads to inaction. This week we look at how memory can replace thinking.  What we mean by this is that organisations can get stuck into a certain way of doing things. This is how things have always been done around here type thinking. It’s a mindless reliance on the past. Translating knowledge into action which involves changes is resisted. People are afraid to question the old ways of doing things. Management practices persist even when their ineffectiveness is acknowledge by organisational leadership. The result is that organisations avoid adopting new practices.

How can we relate this to our own lives?  Well, are you stuck in a rut and doing things in a mindless way because you have always done it that way? Are you stuck in the ‘good old days‘ when your were successful in the past?

Alternatively are you open to fresh thinking and doing new things?  One practical exercise that you can do every day to promote new thinking and create new ideas is to write down 10 creative ideas on any topic of your choice every day. You will build your creative muscle!  You will generate new ideas and enhance your ability to break out of mindlessness.  Build this practice into your daily routine.  Your diary is a great place to brainstorm these 10 daily ideas (I use the Journal Software by DavidRM : Order LinkDemo Download LinkProduct Information Link)

Next Week:  Fear is the enemy when it comes to organisations breaking free of precedent. In the next article we look at why fear prevents action and exacerbates the knowing-doing gap in organisations and what lessons we can learn to improve our own lives.

Ref: ‘The Knowing-Doing Gap – How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton. Harvard Business School Press, 2000

The Knowing-Doing Gap

In the business world most companies know or can know the same things.  They can spend millions on consultants, training programmes and executive education.  They all have access to knowledge.  However there is a major difference between having knowledge and transforming that knowledge into action.  This is what is called the knowing-doing gap.

The knowing-doing gap is something which interests me a lot.  Not only does this gap apply to companies but I believe it also applies to individuals.  Have you ever come across people who appear to know everything and who talk very wisely but at the same time their  their lives are a mess?  Their knowledge does not translate into action and positive results.  In many ways I believe that we all suffer from the knowing-doing gap to a different degree and I do recognise it in my own life as well.  That is why I believe that we need to look at the knowing-doing gap, what causes it and how do we can bridge that gap.  In this and follow-on articles I am going to examine this issue based on the research work of Pfeffer and Sutton who looked at how successful companies turn knowledge into action.  Let’s see what lessons that we can take from the business world and  apply to our personal lives.

The first lesson that we can learn is that there is the tendency to treat talking about something the same as doing something.  We can talk and we can research and make plans for action.  We need to talk and plan, they are important.  However they are only first steps – something has to get done and somebody has to do it.  The problem comes when talk becomes a substitute for action.  I can see this in my own life where I have so many plans.  I have long lists of plans.  And I spend a lot of time planning and maintaining and reviewing those lists.  The problem is that I spend too much time on the plans and too little time making them happen!  The solution is simplicity.  Focus on only three goals at any time and get them done.  Each day focus on three things that you will get done that day and make sure that you do them.  Don’t get trapped at the level of smart talk and planning.

“The vision must be followed by the venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps – we must step up the stairs.”

Vance Havner

In the coming weeks I will be sharing more lessons on how smart companies overcame the knowing-doing gap and how we can apply these lesson in our own lives.

Ref: ‘The Knowing-Doing Gap – How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton. Harvard Business School Press, 2000