On The Knowing-Doing Gap

I recently finished reading the book The Knowing-Doing Gap – How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton.

The main premise of this book as the authors best summarize it is: “Why knowledge of what needs to be done frequently fails to result in action or behavior consistent with that knowledge. We came to call this the knowing-doing problem – the challenge of turning knowledge about how to enhance organizational performance into actions consistent with that knowledge. This book presents what we learned about the factors that contribute to the knowledge doing gap and why and how some organizations are more successful than others in implementing their knowledge.”

The book then analyzes the reasons and causes of this gap through numerous examples and presents eight main recommendations: “Eight Guidelines for Action: 1) Why before How: Philosophy Is Important 2) Knowing Comes from Doing and Teaching Others How. 3) Action Counts More Than Elegant Plans and Concepts. 4) There Is No Doing without Mistakes. What Is the Company’s Response? 5) Fear Fosters Knowing-Doing Gaps, So Drive Out Fear. 6) Beware of False Analogies: Fight the Competition, Not Each Other. 7) Measure What Matters and What Can Help Turn Knowledge into Action. 8) What Leaders Do, How They Spend Their Time and How They Allocate Resources, Matters.”

A very applicable, educational and action oriented book. One that echoes the fundamentals of execution and its importance as the ultimate benchmark of success. A must read in the area of management!

Below are key excerpts from the book:

1- “…although knowledge creation, benchmarking, and knowledge management may be important, transforming knowledge into organization action is at least as important to organizational success.”

2- “Attempting to copy just what is done – the explicit practices and policies – without holding the underlying philosophies at once a more difficult task and an approach that is less likely to be successful.”

3- “Talk is also valued because, as noted earlier, the quantity and “quality” of talk can be assessed immediately, but the quality of leadership or management capability, the ability to get things done, can be assessed only with  greater time lag.”

4- “It is possible, albeit difficult, to build strong cultures founded on principles and philosophy that can also innovate and change. But doing so requires much thought and attention. Otherwise, firms are readily trapped by their history, even if, or particularly if, that history has many positive elements in it, as Saturn’s does.”

5- “Conversely, fear is an enemy of the abilitiy to question the past or break free from precedent.”

6- “It is clear to us that merely knowing what measurement practices should be used does not, by itself, cause leaders to implement measures that produce intelligent, mindful, learning behavior rather than the reverse.”

7- “In each of the instances in which effective measurement practices were used, knowing what to do, why it needed to be done, and having the persistence and courage to do it helped leaders turn knowledge about how to enhance performance into organizational action.”

8- “As Dean Tjosvold, a researcher and writer on the subject of competition and cooperation, noted, “Competition stimulates, excites, and is useful in some circumstance, but those situations do not occur frequently in organizations, and the widespread use of competition cannot be justified.””

9- “Harlow Cohen, the president of a Cleveland, Ohio, consulting firm, has called this gap between knowing and doing the performance paradox: “Managers know what to do to improve performance, but actually ignore or act in contradiction to either their strongest instincts or to the data available to them.””

10- “Knowing about the knowing-doing gap is different from doing something about it. Understanding causes is helpful because such understanding can guide action. But by itself, this knowing is insufficient – action must occur.”


Omar Halabieh

The Knowing-Doing Gap

The Knowing-Doing Gap


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