Book Review: The Knowing-Doing Gap
As authors Pfeffer and Sutton point out, there are nearly 2,000 books published each year, just in the “Business” category. There is no shortage of knowledge out there at our fingertips: knowledge about the best management practices, the best strategies, the best structures, the best cultures. There is an abundance of knowledge out there to support leaders in creating powerful and effective organizations. The problem, however, is not what we know—we know enough. The problem is that we do not act based on our knowledge. Even when we know what we should do, we often do not do it. The question is “Why?” and the authors provide some insightful answers in their book, The Knowing-Doing Gap.
The authors conducted in-depth case studies on a number of companies to identify why some companies acted on their knowledge while others did not. Their findings are simple but powerful. They demonstrate clearly how organizations set themselves up for failure by doing everything but acting on what they know is the best course. They show what it looks like when organizations substitute talk (meetings, decisions, presentations) for action. They explain the pitfalls of relying on “how it’s always been done” as a strategy. They show how well intended programs that measure productivity can actually prevent organizations from acting on the right knowledge. They also discuss the powerful intangibles like fear and internal competition that lead people to withhold knowledge or refrain from acting on it.
They admit, of course, that their book is simply yet another piece of “knowledge” out there, and that reading the book is not enough. You must act on it. You must look at your organization and understand what you need to do differently to ensure that what people know is translated into appropriate action. They do provide some detailed case studies of organizations that have successfully bridged the knowing-doing gap, and that is helpful as a model.
I think this book is a “must-read” for leaders who need to get the most out of their organizations. It allows you to zero in on some key patterns of organizational behavior that disrupt the connection between knowledge and action. With some limited but strategic changes, you can usually reap significant long-term benefits.
This is why Maddie and I listed it as a “must-read” in Chapter 6, How to Be Open, in Humanize. In fact, Pfeffer and Sutton have the distinction of being the only authors to be listed TWICE in our end-of-chapter “Must Read” sections (a review of Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense is on my list).