Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Knowing-Doing Gap............

The Knowing-Doing Gap

"All know the way, but few actually walk it."

If we all know what to do, then why don't we do it?

Why is it that our knowledge does not align with our actions?  Could it be that our knowledge is far superior to our capacity to act on it?  Is our failure to act purely a flaw in human design or could it be that this seemingly lazy behavior is learned or even rewarded?

Ironically, we already "know" the answers to these questions.  We just need to make a few observations...

In the 2007 Harvard Business Review article, "The Smart-Talk Trap," authors, Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton, observed the cause and effect of the knowing-doing gap in the world of business. As if our flawed DNA were not enough of a hurdle in itself, we are also implicitly taught in school and the workplace that "smart talk" is a substitute for action.  Our misalignment of knowledge and action is learned behavior:

Smart talk is the essence of management education at leading institutions in the United States and throughout the world.  Students learn how to sound smart in classroom discussions and how to write smart things on essay examinations.  A substantial part of students' grades is usually based on how much they say and how smart they sound in class...

Students learn that they need only to deliver an intelligent insight -- or an intelligent critique of someone else's insight -- to impress their professors.  They don't have to actually implement the recommendations or act on the insights that emerge in the conversation.

"But this is that which will indeed dignify and exalt knowledge, if contemplation and action may be more nearly and straightly conjoined and united together than they have been..." 

                                                                                            Francis Bacon, Advancement of Learning

Most of us can draw on immediate experience to recall examples of smart-talk and the knowing-doing gap.  In my studies, I recall "class participation" was, indeed, a significant portion of the final grade.

What about in the business world? How many mission statements are actually carried out?  How many ideas hatched in committee meetings actually make it past the meeting minutes?

What about the CEOs and managers?  They may "dress for success" and appear knowledgeable, but do they even know what their smart talk means?  

Consider some further observations cited in the same article by Pfeffer and Sutton:

People will try to sound smart not only by being critical but also by using trendy,pretentious, or overblown language...

Sometimes managers don't know what they're talking about when they use complex language, as we discovered when we asked a number of them to define some of the terms they used frequently -- such as 'learning organization,' 'business process re-engineering,' 'chaos theory,' and 'paradigm.'

Does this remind you of anyone?  Have you ever worked for a CEO or manager that actually turned their smart-talk into action?  How many of them do you feel were smarter than you?  Did they obtain the leadership positions because of real action or was it a resume full of positions and certificates achieved via the path of smart talk?

I can certainly appreciate the value of a visionary leader who is a gifted smart-talker but only when they effectively put their words into action or if the leader is at least wise enough to delegate the doing to their managers and employees.  I have seen evidence, both anecdotal and scientific, that corporations can only go so far on the "fake it 'til you make it" premise.  Making matters worse, most organizations and their leaders are not even aware of their knowing-doing gap.    

"Between the conception / And the creation / Between the emotion / And the response / Falls the Shadow." 

  T.S. Elliot, The Hallow Men

As you may have already guessed, my direction here is that the knowing-doing gap can only be closed by some form of awareness.  This applies, of course, not only to organizations but to individuals as well.

Knowledge is power but it certainly is not wisdom.  

The smart-talkers seeking short-term rewards will frame questions by asking "why" while corporate leaders and individuals seeking long-term goals and lasting success will frame questions by asking "how."

The path to self-awareness, furthermore, will have us ask the more difficult questions, such as "Who am I?" and "Where am I going?"

"There is nothing with which every man is so afraid as getting to know how enormously much he is capable of doing and becoming." 

                                    Soren Kierkegaard

While our world certainly rewards smart-talkers, and I will not say that smart talk is purely negative, but my objective here is to help others awaken to their own path -- the path that ideally originates from the inner world.  This awakening, if you will, almost certainly requires the shattering of conventional wisdom and the undoing of what we have been taught -- that our knowing does not need to align with our doing and, more importantly, our being -- that we are somehow smaller than our dreams.

These teachings are simply and categorically not healthy.  The knowing-doing gap must be closed...

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