In the book The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action, authors Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton discuss why our actions often don’t match our ideals, and what we can do about it. The book is written from a business perspective but can be applied to everyday life. It describes the differences between attitudes and behaviours and raises the issue of the frequently large gap between knowing something is important and actually doing it, for instance the Association of Executive Search Consultants conducted a survey in which ‘three quarters of the responding CEOs said companies should have ‘fast track’ programs, but fewer than half have one at their own companies’. So what can we learn from this in terms of achieving our own goals? Below I take Pfeffer’s rules for making things happen and translate them for your own personal development:
1. Doing something requires … doing something!
In the internet age we have access to huge amounts of information and the potential for an infinite distractions. Whilst all of this information may be interesting it only useful if you do something with it. The reason some people have fallen into this knowing-doing gap is this: doing something actually requires doing something! It means tackling the hard work of making something happen. It’s much easier and much safer to sit around collate information, read books, scan websites – and never actually take action.
2. Doing means learning. Learning means mistakes.
If you genuinely want to move from knowing to doing, you need accept that you will make mistakes. You need to be able to try things, even if you think that you might fail. The absolute opposite mind-set is one where you will only try things if you know there is very little chance of failure. With the risks involved in everyday life this can apply to even small changes. But what about the risk of doing nothing? That guarantees that what you want to do is going to fail – do you really want to sign up to that?
One of the most common emotions in our lives today is fear. The reason that there is so much fear is that we are told that failing is bad. Learning requires tolerating making mistakes. Learning requires tolerating inefficiency. Learning requires tolerating failure. Learning requires trying things that you’ve never done before, things that they probably won’t be very good at the first time around. The only way that you can learn is by doing things that you’ve never done before. If we do only what we already know how to do, then we won’t ever learn anything new. Thomas Eddison who invented the light bulb had a great view-point on making mistakes Edison failed over 10,000 times before he got the light bulb right, he considered all those failures the part of his path to success!
4. Talking is not doing
We often confuse talking with doing. We sometimes think that talking about doing something is the same thing as doing it! That planning is the same as doing. That sharing our ideas with a friend is the same as doing. That writing up our plans is the same as doing. Or even that making a decision to do something is the same as doing it. Mistaking talk for action is worse than just a simple error: talk can stop us taking action. Whilst we do need to talk and plan we also need to make sure it is balanced with taking action.
5. Decisions, by themselves, are empty.
Don’t fall into the trap of confusing making a decision with making something happen. First, we become obsessed with making the right decision – which becomes a major obstacle to trying something to see if it works. Then we forget a simple fact: that a decision by itself changes nothing. A decision is the beginning of the process of doing, not the end of that process. And so we work at making good decisions. Did we make the right decision? Did we have all of the information that we needed to make the decision? Well, it’s always better to make a good decision than a bad decision – but just making a decision doesn’t change anything! Did you take action on the decision? Did you actually do anything?
6. What do I do? When do I get started?
If you want the future to be better than the present, you have to start working on it immediately. Remember: What you want is ‘better than’, not optimal. Your job is to do something today that’s better than what you did yesterday. And to do something tomorrow that’s better than what you did today.