Knowing Is Not Enough

b-gap.jpgHere’s one of those really good (and at the same time really irritating) questions to ask yourself – why is it that I know so much more than I actually do when I want to be successful at something?  This time of year always reminds me that even though I know the plan for just about every diet there is, my scale tells me that the knowledge alone isn’t very useful:

The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action, by Pfeffer and Sutton, takes a good look at this question and has a lot to be leveraged for project management (if you haven’t checked out the Knowing-Doing Gap link on this site’s Blogroll, do it!).  The authors found five key barriers to bridging this Gap:

  • When talk is a substitute for action; talking, data gathering, planning and analyzing are treated as equivalent to taking action
  • When memory is a substitute for thinking; people continue to do what has always been done without reflecting
  • When fear prevents acting on knowledge
  • When measurement obstructs good judgment
  • When internal competition turns friends into enemies

How often do you experience these issues in your project work?  How much do they impact your ability to be effective?

Here’s what really interested me though – Pfeffer and Sutton believe that most successful organizational performance improvement “depends largely on implementing what is already known rather than from adopting new or previously unknown ways of doing things.”

b-gap2.jpgNow that really sounds familiar to me.  For many years I  worked at “X”, a large international company in Palo Alto, and one of the laments I heard the entire time was “if X only knew what X knew…”   I don’t need to say anything here about the benefit of regular retrospectives in this case – it’s so obvious that even a CIO should be able to see it!  (well, maybe not…)

Here are some of the ideas in the book for dealing with the barriers:

  • Put the “Why” before “How”
  • Knowing Comes From Doing and Teaching Others How
  • Action Counts More Than Plans and Concepts 
  • There is no doing without mistakes
  • Drive Out Fear 
  • Fight the competition not each other

What would be different if these were the guiding principles where you work? 


1 thought on “Knowing Is Not Enough”

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    “The Knowing-Doing Gap” is one of my favorite top 10 books of all time. I use it’s key message constantly in my consulting work. Having met both Dr. Bob Sutton and Dr. Jeffrey Pfeffer personally, I can attest to the fact that they are extraordinarily delightful human beings who can see the humor in the inspiration for their book, which they wrote when they noticed that their colleagues – professors at the Stanford Graduate School of Business – didn’t follow their own advice when they themselves worked in the business world.

    If knowing “how” were enough I’d be rich and thin. And I wouldn’t have a drop of consulting business! After 20 years of experience in the business world I can confidently state that thoughtful action separates successful individuals, teams and organizations from those with smart people and great ideas.

    Jim Collin’s, the author of another of my top ten favorite books “Good to Great”, succinctly summed up the recipe for success: Disciplined people thinking and acting with discipline.

    It’s so simple that your competitors are unlikely to even consider this approach!

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