Business Knowledge is Inspirational But Useless Without Action– Knowing-Doing Gap: Not Doing in Spite of Knowing…

Knowledge-Action Gap: Companies must develop an attitude of ‘action’; knowing is fine but ‘doing’ is what counts… According to David Star Jordan; wisdom is knowing what to do next; virtue is doing it… once we have the knowledge base of how to do something, we must do it and know why… Many companies under-perform because they don’t turn knowledge into action… whereas smart, successful companies do…

According to Martha Beck; don’t substitute talk for action… talk, talk, talk… substituting talk for action is perhaps the most common way companies fall into the ‘knowing-doing’ gap. Many businesses spend so much time creating strategies, mission statements… but they don’t actually implement anything… They plan, analyze, discuss, debate… and then count this ‘word-spinning’ activity as ‘action’… In these exercises companies think they are working towards a ‘goal’ when in fact they are just spinning wheels…

Each year, companies spend billions of dollars for education, training, management consultants, seminars, research, books… management acknowledges that from these activities they are more enlightened, wiser… but in most cases, this knowledge is very seldom actually implemented… as a result there is very little tangible impact on the organization…Why does knowledge about what needs to be done– frequently fail to result in action or behavior consistent with that knowledge?

According to Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton in their classic business book, The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action; point out that problem in most organizations is not knowing what to do, but just doing it… Companies need to develop an attitude of action; understanding, planning, deciding are just first step; actually ‘doing’ is what counts… The key to success in business is action, but in many companies, people are rewarded for talk — and the longer, louder, and more confusingly, apparently the better...

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Why Smart Companies Fail to Turn Knowledge into Action: According to Jeffrey Pfeffer and Bob Sutton’s book, The Knowing-Doing Gap; there are several reasons why companies fail to transform the accumulation of knowledge into actionable results. Knowing ‘what’ to do is simply not enough; when companies find that ‘talk’ substitutes for action, or when memory serves as a substitute for thinking, it’s likely that very little action is taking place…

Other inhibitors to action are found by taking a deep look into company culture, for example: Is fear prevalent? If so, fear may prevent individuals from stepping up, taking the actions that can lead to company growth and development… It’s true that ‘knowing what to do’ and ‘doing what one should do’ are in fact two different things…

One of the most important insights from research is that knowledge that is implemented is much more likely to have been acquired from ‘learning by doing’ rather than ‘learning by reading, listening, even thinking’… Most companies understand the issues, understand what needs to be done to effect performance, but they just don’t do the things they know should be done… 

People are always fascinated by successful companies. Many business books have a large dose of ‘what successful companies do’… and such information certainly can be helpful. But learning by reading, learning by training programs, and learning from university-based degree programs will get you only so far… There is a loose, imperfect relationship between knowing what to do, and ability to act on the knowledge: Competitive advantage comes from being able to do something others can’t do. Anyone can read a book, attend seminar… The trick is in turning the knowledge acquired into business action… Having an action orientation and actually taking appropriate and relevant actions are the basis for company success…

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This means companies must learn by doing, as well, as by reading, thinking… If people learn from their own actions, behavior… then there won’t be much of a knowing-doing gap because you will be ‘knowing’ on the basis of ‘doing’, and implementing that knowledge is substantially easier, more effective…

Acquiring knowledge through practice, performance, and even failure is indispensable for organizations of all sizes and types… Thus, at one level, the answer to the knowing-doing problem is deceptively simple: Embed more of acquiring new knowledge by actually doing the task, and less in formal training programs that are frequently ineffective.

As one comprehensive study for the development of executives, concluded: One learns to be a leader by serving-doing as a leader, but this practice is rarely followed– this reveals the philosophy of– ‘if you do it, then you know it’…

In the article Knowing-Doing Gap by A. V. Vedpuriswar and V. Pattabhi Ram write: The trouble is not lack of knowledge. The trouble is not about ‘not knowing’. The trouble is about ‘not doing’ in spite of knowing… According to Sumantra Ghoshal in his book, A Bias for Action; he explains how executives often found it very difficult to do purposeful action, and they kept postponing important initiatives… Managers often have a fair idea of what to do, when faced with a problem. They have their own rich experience plus insights of their colleagues.

They read lots of books published every year. They seek advice of management consultants armed with the latest tools and listen to gurus who constantly lecture on new concepts. But often, even with all that knowledge, nothing happens: There is little action… This ‘knowing-doing gap’ can be traced to a basic human propensity; the willingness to let talk substitute for actionWhen dealing with a problem, people act as if discussing it and preparing plans for action are the same as actually fixing it… Smart talk, as opposed to action, is prevalent in many companies… You may not like what I say; but the fact is that most B-school graduates remain talkers rather than doers, even after joining an employer…

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The daily life of an executive revolves around meetings, teams, consensus building… So the more a person talks, the more valuable he appears. People who talk confidently and freely are likely to be judged by others as influential and important… It’s hard enough to explain how to put a complex idea into practice when we understand the idea, but it’s impossible when we don’t, many managers don’t know what they are talking about… Whereas, in companies that avoided the ‘knowing-doing gap’, executives focus on a few key priorities that have clear implications for action…

These company leaders preferred plain language, simple concepts: They valued common sense… Plain talk, simple concepts are more likely to lead to action. You can disagree with a simple plan but you can’t claim confusion as your excuse to ignore it, or not do it… The successful companies don’t necessarily have the best strategy, brilliant ideas… but, they are good at implementation… Great companies believe that actual experience is the best teacher… And, they convert the ‘process of doing’ into opportunities for learning…

In the article Rule #18: Knowing Ain’t the Same as Doing by Tracy Betts writes: In the book ‘Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self ‘ by Alan M. Webber, he states: Rule #18: Knowing it Ain’t the Same as Doing’, and he asks the question; if we live in a knowledge economy then what kind of knowledge is most valuable? He goes on to discuss two ways of knowing, for example:

  • The kind of knowing that comes from reading and thinking: The kind of theorizing that experts excel at, or…
  • The kind of knowing that comes from doing: Unlike the first form of knowing, which starts in a person’s head and stays there, this form of knowing starts in the hands and moves up to the head and then back down again in a knowing-doing loop…

I believe that understanding the difference between the two ways of knowing is important to any organization… In my mind the ‘knowing-doing’ loop is key to success… When we are assessing an idea or evaluating a project within a company, simply ‘knowing’ is not enough, one should ask: How have we applied this knowledge before? What happened? How does it affect what we trying to accomplish? If we haven’t applied this knowledge before, who’s going to test it? Both kinds of knowing are important– if we are constantly ‘doing’ and not taking the time to– read, think, theorize… than we risk losing depth, new ideas… However, reading, thinking, theorizing… without ‘doing’ creates nothing but terrific thoughts, ideas… stuck in someone’s head…

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The more ‘action’ you take the more ‘progress’ you make! Knowing it and doing it are two different things! You’ve heard this saying– ‘knowing’ is half the battle… Well, ‘doing’  is the other half… According to jennyb; having the ‘knowledge’ to do well in business is important. Having the ‘courage’ and the ‘ambition’ to ‘execute’ what you ‘know’, and the momentum-commitment to continue– is what many people lack in business… Confucius says; the essence of knowledge is, having it, to use it… Archie Danielson says; intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings…

Just as we learned to talk and walk by taking ‘small steps’, we must learn to grow the business by taking small steps.  But, once we know how to do something we must keep doing it… It does no good just to study how people walk, if we don’t ever stand-up ourselves and put one foot in front of the other to get somewhere… Ralph Waldo Emerson says; without ambition one starts nothing and without work one finishes nothing... dreams are tied to action: When you ‘do’ what you know you should, you will create a change in the business…

There is no knowledge advantage unless a company also has an action advantage… The procrastinators need to understand that action counts more than elaborate plans and concepts… In a world where sounding smart has too often come to take the place of doing something smart, there is a tendency to let planning, meetings, and talk substitute for implementation… People like to say all of the smart stuff, to give the right answer… That’s often because some company cultures makes it dangerous to take action…

According to Oksana Tashakova; there’s a big difference between ‘knowing what to do’ and ‘doing it’… Business books fly off the shelves every year, research studies and training programs are purchased, yet few things really change within companies. Most of this knowledge isn’t really new. Most of this business knowledge is classic. Yet companies fail to implement these practices… What is important is not so much ‘what’ we do– the specific people management techniques and practices; but ‘why’ we do it– this underlying philosophy provides a firm foundation for good practices… So, do it and know why you do it…