Although published a decade ago, “The Knowing-Doing Gap” written by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton remains one of my favorite management books. The book’s focus is why so many company’s who know what they should do to achieve success, simply never get around to doing it, while the smart ones develop the habits for turning knowledge into action.
Of course, companies and organizations actually do nothing. It’s their managers and executives who are responsible for instigating action that produces desired results. So why do managers so often fail to turn what they know should be done into action that accomplishes it?
Pfeffer and Sutton do an exceptional job of exploring both the human psychological and organizational cultural dimensions that underpin the knowing-doing gap. Perhaps many of you have seen some of these manifestations in action in your own companies and organizations: management that confuses talking about and studying something for actually doing it; fear of mistakes, consequences, and accountability that paralyzes decision makers; an organizational culture that emphasizes blame more than results; or the search for a perfect solution that ignores Voltaire’s warning that “the perfect is the enemy of the good”.
In my management workshops, I often refer to those moments in the careers of all managers when they have the opportunity to define themselves as individuals, distinct from the stereotypes that may characterize the overall management culture of their organization. I believe this is one of them: confronted with the knowledge that something important needs to be done, are you a woman or man of action or not?
I believe the best managers are those who nurture a personal bias for action regardless of what those around them may do. They are managers who worry less about broad systemic change and concentrate more — as I noted in an earlier blog — on “changing the room they are in“. They are managers who are open to possibilities and other points of view, and who are willing to challenge established procedures and the way things once were and now are, in the service of how they could be. Perhaps most important of all, they are managers who are comfortable with the notion that the ultimate verdict on any course of action will not depend upon what others may think, but upon the results themselves.
In the final chapter of the “Knowing-Doing Gap” Pfeffer and Sutton address eight guidelines for developing a bias for action. These include developing the right philosophy concerning action and the importance of doing and teaching others to do. If you are interested, you can purchase the book directly from Amazon via the link to Robert Sutton’s website I included above.
For my part, I will be addressing in my next series of blogs a way of thinking and acting — both individually and collectively — that will help you develop a career-long bias for action of your own.