Crossing the Knowing-Doing Gap

eveljump.jpgA couple of days ago I adamantly asserted that people working on projects sometimes know what needs to be done but don’t do it for various reasons. This behavior is typical of those stuck in the gap between KNOWING HOW to do something and actually DOING it.

How can project leaders enable people on our teams to cross that gap?

1. Challenge people about their own contribution to the circumstances that are keeping them stuck.

2. Confront them with their own power to effect changes to these circumstances.

Here are some specific approaches to cross the gap:

  • Distinguish fact from interpretation. Hold a pen at shoulder height and let it go. Ask “What caused it to fall?” “Gravity” is one possible explanation. “I let go.” is equally true and a much more empowering perspective. We can focus on things that we can’t control, like gravity, but that leaves us stuck in the role of victim. Help your team understand that they are choosing their interpretation of the circumstances, and hopelessness and helplessness are just one possible interpretation of reality.
  • Exercise the ability to perceive a range of possible perspectives in situations by developing both extremely negative and ridiculously positive interpretations of a particular circumstance. You will soon discover that reality is much more the mind’s choice of the story we choose to tell ourselves than a fact. When something “bad” happens, ask “What does this make possible that wasn’t possible before?”
  • Reframe risky situations that keep team members stuck in analysis paralysis by counteracting the Fear of Failure with encouragement to avoid the SURE loss that will come from doing nothing. (Humans have a tendency to avoid a sure loss.) Demonstrate that the most dangerous thing to do is to stay in the comfort zone. Point out how the comfort zone as UNSAFE.
  • Determine if there is anything that you are MORE committed to than merely being comfortable, MORE than maintaining the status quo. (There is usually something!)
  • Overcome the natural aversion to planning by implementing a system of accountability with another person, or within the organization, that acknowledges planning as “REAL WORK.” Planning is REAL work, but do code is written, no sheet metal cut, no circuit designed, while it is occurring, so it can be tempting to skip it.
  • Demonstrate the human being tendency to the habit of competition, even when the result is LESS than that which can be achieved through collaboration. A simple thumb-wrestling experiment should be sufficient . . . ask pairs to thumb wrestle to win $1000 for each time they pin their opponents thumbs down. Most will struggle against one another, but a few will realize that, by cooperating, their winnings will far exceed those of the “victor” in the pairs playing a win-lose game. Help your people understand that collaboration is almost NEVER the first instinct, and almost ALWAYS yields a higher quality result.

It doesn’t matter how much your team knows if they can’t execute. Over 70% of business failures have been attributed to an inability to execute. Knowing HOW, but itself, changes NOTHING! We must be able to IMPLEMENT what we know, whether we feel like it or not, whether we think there’s time to do what needs to be done or not. Doing what we know works beats a great theory any day!


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