Consult any of the current works unlocking the mysteries of the leadership and management arts by revealing “7 miracles,” “12 simple secrets,” “13 fatal errors,” “14 powerful techniques,” “21 irrefutable laws,” “30 truths,” “101 biggest mistakes,” and “1001 ways.”
Chris Lowney, Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company that Changed the World
Bob Morris introduced me to the phrase “The Knowing-Doing Gap.” I think I already grasped the concept, but this named it really well. We “know,” but we do not “do.” The phrase is one that immediately resonates. We get it. Yes, we “know” a lot, but we do not “do” all that we “know” – actually, we “do” so very little of what we “know.”
So, here is my current observation. We read, we “learn” – but we do not do.
This is bothersome to me — worse than bothersome, it is costly. I read books. You might say that I read books for a living. I read books, present synopses of books to companies, organizations. I like my job. I “learn” a lot. But do I “do” what I learn? Not enough – not often enough, and not comprehensively enough. And, I suspect, the same is true for the groups to which I present my synopses. They “learn” the key points from the books. But do they “do” what they “learn?” Not enough, and not comprehensively enough.
We are a nation awash in “learning.” We go to seminars, read books… But we implement nowhere near enough of the ideas that we “learn.”
My wife worked with a number of real estate agents. Some good, some really good – a few, not so close to the “good” end of the scale. But only a couple were really, really good – you know, “exceptional,” truly “above the crowd.”
Here is an observation about these agents. Many of them went to the same seminars and workshops, even bought products from the same real estate marketing and coaching gurus. But only a few (OK – really only one) had a knack for hearing something, and then actually doing – actually acting on what she “learned.”
Here are two areas where this problem is especially seen: leadership, and innovation. The quote above, from the book Heroic Leadership, has just lingered with me. Chris Lowney described how there has been so very much written about leaderhip, and yet, as he observed, no one would claim that the United States, either in the business or the political arena, has a surplus of good leaders. In fact, it is the opposite. Great leadership is way too rare. We have lots and lots of books and speeches and workshops on leadership. But not that many great leaders.
And the same is true in the innovation area. Consider this brief video on Slate.com. Slate’s Jacob Weisberg interviewed Nathan Myhrvold: Where Have All the Crazy Inventors Gone? — Tech visionary Nathan Myhrvold on why American innovation is lagging. Here’s the intro to the interview:
America has always been known for its spirit of invention, but that spirit seems to be flagging. Nathan Myhrvold, the onetime CTO of Microsoft and founder of Intellectual Ventures, handicaps the state of innovation in a sprawling interview he recently gave to Slate’s Jacob Weisberg.
In the interview, Myhrvold described how there used to be more “Crazy individual risk-taking…”
I have presented many, many synopses of books that deal with innovation. We write about innovation, we study innovation, we talk about innovation, we applaud innovation. And, yet, our “spirit of innovation seems to be flagging.” How is that possible — with so much attention given to it?
I think this. Closing this “knowng-doing gap” may be the biggest challenge we face.
A side note, maybe illustrative of this problem. Take a life inventory. Do you have a challenge or two that you have known about for a long time (years – decades?) that you just can’t quite meet. You know, things like your weight, or the need to exercise, or your tendency to be to abrupt with people. I suspect, if you are like me, you have your very own, very personal “knowing-doing” gap.
Well, I am not what you called the organized type. I have fought (ok – at times, simply ignored) clutter, and lack of personal organization, for years – make that decades. I said to my wife just yesterday that my goal is to be organized by the time I turn 65. (that’s not too terribly far away). She has bemoaned my “knowing-doing” gap in this arena for a very long time.
Well, I ran across an e-book that is giving me a new set of tools for this challenge. I read it to learn – not to present. I need help! Ask me in six months, and I‘ll let you know if it has helped any.
Here’s what struck me about this book – it is all about “do this.” Not much “this is why.” Or, “this is the philosophy behind this.” Just, “do this.” It is not as “good” a book as other time management books that I’ve read. (He does refer to David Allen more than once). But he skips giving much explanation, and just says “do this.” The book, 30 Days to a More Organized Life, is by C G P Grey (Colin Grey). I think it might be a collection of blog posts. It has 30 chapters. Here are some of the chapter titles:
Day 1: Get a Notebook and Pen.
Day 6: Scan Everything
Day 9: The Rule of Two
Not much explanation. No beating around the bush. Just “do this.” Each chapter tells you something to “do.” I already “knew” practically all of this, but I did not “do” much of it. I’m “doing” some of these. And, it might be helping.
I suspect you have a few “knowing-doing gap” challenges of your own. Let’s all get to the “doing” part. It might be good for us all.
What do we do when the experts simply can’t figure it out?
Here’s a simple question: are there failing companies? Yes. Are there less-than-excellent organizations? Yes. Do you do everything you could do, should do, as well as you possibly could – as well as it needs to be done? The answer, I’m pretty sure, is no.
So, “less-than-excellent” is all around us. As we reflect on failures and deficiencies, we ask the next question: why are we not better? Why are our companies, our organizations, our own lives, not better?
Atul Gawande hinted at it when he wrote:
We have just two reasons that we may fail.
The first is ignorance – we may err because science has given us only a partial understanding of the world and how it works. There are skyscrapers we do not yet know how to build, snowstorms we cannot predict, heart attacks we still haven’t learned how to stop. The second type of failure the philosophers call ineptitude – because in these instances the knowledge exists, yet we fail to apply it correctly.
(Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right).
Or, to put it in simple terms: we don’t know; or, when/if we do know, we don’t do. Back, yet again, to the “knowing-doing gap.”
Now, on the “we don’t know” part of this equation…. Sometimes, we have not yet learned. On the news last night, there was a report on an amazing breakthrough drug for lung cancer. It looks like it might actually work, and they profiled a woman (with two young children still at home) who was on her death bed, and she is practically back from the dead. We now know something we did not know, and she is alive, maybe for quite a while longer. Wonderful.
And there are, we suspect, so many more such wonderful discoveries around the corner.
But, as much as we have come to rely on the breakthrough discoveries and insights of “experts” – they simply don’t yet know everything.
Which brings me to the paragraph of the day. This came in on my AtlanticWire Five Best Columns e-mail this morning. The article referenced is: What Caused the Financial Crisis? Don’t Ask An Economist. I end this post with the paragraph summary of the article from the AtlanticWire. And I remind you that there are some questions for which we simply do not know the answers — yet. And the more complex the question, the bigger the problem this presents. It really is quite a paragraph on lack of consensus, the limits of experts and their expertise, and a little on the drawbacks of this contentious age we live in.
Mark Thoma on the disabling divide in macroeconomics “What caused the financial crisis that is still reverberating through the global economy?” asks Mark Thoma in The Fiscal Times. “Last week’s 4th Nobel Laureate Meeting in Lindau, Germany–a meeting that brings Nobel laureates in economics together with several hundred young economists from all over the world–illustrates how little agreement there is on the answer to this important question.” Economists offered all sorts of conflicting answers like “the banks, the Fed, too much regulation, too little regulation, Fannie and Freddie, moral hazard from too-big-to-fail banks, bad and intentionally misleading accounting, irrational exuberance, faulty models, and the ratings agencies.” This lack of consensus among the world’s most renowned economists is troubling, Thoma writes, because we cannot find a solution to a problem we do not agree on. Perhaps we could try to fix all the potential problems cited. “But that unnecessarily constrains a whole range of activities in the hope that we limit the particular behaviors at the root of the crisis. That’s an inefficient way to fix the problem. And in any case, how do you proceed when some of the causes cited by economists are at odds with each other?” The truth is, macroeconomists have not yet agreed on a single model for the economy. Because economic theories are applied to historical, not experimental, data, economists can come up with multiple theories that explain the past equally well. “This problem is not just of concern to macroeconomists; it has contributed to the dysfunction we are seeing in Washington as well. When Republicans need to find support for policies such as deregulation, they can enlist prominent economists–Nobel laureates perhaps–to back them up. Similarly, when Democrats need support for proposals to increase regulation, they can also count noted economists in their camp.” Thoma says he hoped that a cycle-interrupting cataclysm like the 2008 crisis would provide enough new macroeconomic data to support one theory over another–he thinks it supports demand side over supply side. In fact, economists have just used it to back up their previously held positions and “dig in their heels,” making our debates “larger and more contentious than ever.”
“The only job security is found in your own ability to keep learning!”
“Through learning, we re-create ourselves.”
We all know the challenge – to keep learning. But, in most cases, learning is not learning something new, but instead, remembering what we knew, but forgot — or remembering what we knew, but never actually implemented. (back to that knowing-doing gap).
Thus, one way to look at the lifelong learning challenge is as one life-long string of Refresher Courses.
I thought of this as I was perusing CoxToday (the Spring, 2011 issue: you can download the issue here), the publication of the Cox School of Business at SMU. In “What Do Recruiters Look For In BBA Graduates?” Paula Hill Strasser, MBA Business Leadership Center and BBA Leadership Institute, describes key skills, especially “soft skills,” that are quite important in landing those first jobs, and then succeeding in those jobs. She lists 4 primary ones, and then a few others:
1) Good presentation skills (“Communication is first”).
2) Excellent writing
3) Leadership Skills
4) International Immersion
5) and those soft skills like: professionalism, strong work ethic, negotiation skills, conflict management skills, team building skills…
Strasser: “There is a belief that soft skills have become the hard skills for many new hires because it’s easy to measure quantitative skills.”
Here’s my thought. SMU may realize that these are critical to their graduates as they start out in their business careers, but in our experience (my work with Karl Krayer, and others), this list represents the perpetual curriculum for the business refresher course learning that can never stop.
Think about it: have you ever sat through a less than stimulating presentation; have you ever heard of a poorly functioning team; have you ever seen the effects of a mediocre (or worse) leader? These cry out for some serious, ongoing refresher work. None of these are skills that you can learn, master, and then never need to refresh.
Companies provide training, mentors, “CEUs,” but it really is up to the individual to take advantage of such opportunities. And each individual has to take the opportunity seriously – that is, actually learn. You know: you can lead a horse to water….
And if a company or organization has not built a culture of lifelong learning, you will see these skills diminish. It simply takes constant attention, with regular, perpetual, ongoing refresher efforts.
What about you? Are you regularly refreshing your knowledge, practicing your skills, and staying current? If not – it’s time to start. So…start!
(disclosure: I am an instructor in the Edwin L. Cox Business Leadership Center at the Cox School of Business — a wonderful program for their students).
I don’t manage my time well enough. Do you?
The answer, almost certainly, is “no.” Not many of us do. Spock did – and, I suspect David Allen does. And Peyton Manning. But most of us are mere mortals, and we are: off focused, easily distracted, lazy, following the wrong priorities, following no priorities… We are, to put it simply, world-class time wasting human beings. That’s why the time management section has so many best sellers. It’s kind of like the “diet” section. The reason there are so many best-sellers is that there are so many of us who have so little control. (By the way, as close as I can tell, there is only one way to lose weight – take in fewer calories than you burn – over the long haul! And that is really, really, really hard).
Bob Morris has already reviewed the newest book in the field, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam. (Read his review here).
This morning, Slate.com has a terrific article about this book/this problem: A Time-Management Book Changed My Life! (Again.) — A review of Laura Vanderkam’s 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by KJ Dell’Antonia. But it’s not a “review.” It’s a confessional – for all of us. It is filled with honest, revealing paragraphs. Like these:
Did I, with Vanderkam’s help, come up with a radical new way of thinking about time?
Not even close. What’s remarkable about my experience with 168 Hours isn’t that I gained an extra two hours—it’s that I gained them by following essentially the same advice I could have found in any of the other dozen books in my stack. Every one starts with measurement: The 25 Best Time-Management Tools and Techniques demands that you “Find Out What Time Means to You!” by tracking what you’re doing every five minutes for a week. Sarah Susanka gently encourages seekers of The Not-So-Big Life to “understand our relationship with time” through the use of a multipage time-usage questionnaire. The advice that follows, too, is the same: Eliminate the waste and cease the frittering. “Get rid of non-core-competency work,” says Vanderkam; “Prioritize the important over the urgent,” Time Management for Creative People tells me. Make a list of the things you should do, and the things you have to do, James T. McCay told the Greatest Generation in The Management of Time, published 50 years ago. Now take the list of things you “should do” and throw it away.
Time management is like an American form of Buddhism: a complete and graceful ability to do everything you want to do in precisely the time you’ve been given is our nirvana. Seekers (like me) are happy to read and apply the same advice again and again, because a systematic approach makes that feeling of having as much time as you need seem within reach. “Numbers,” said Gary Wolf, writing about the urge to track our lives for the New York Times Magazine, “make problems less resonant emotionally but more tractable intellectually.” And that’s the sucker punch of the time-management approach: It turns the question of “not having enough time” into a math problem, and allows the real issue to slip under the radar.
And the article ends with this:
The call of 168 Hours is the call of the brief spiritual check-in. “Are we putting enough of ourselves into the stuff that’s most important?” is a question everybody asks once in a while. Some people ask it in church, some in post-yoga Savasana. Millions of Type-A Americans, list-makers and time-trackers all, cloak it in the guise of making the most of our time. But the real issue is the same for everybody: We’re here, and then we’re not. Whatever comes in between those clauses takes more than a little time to figure out.
I have taught time management. I have read so many books. The article lists all of these: 25 Best Time Management Tools and Techniques; The Not-So-Big-Life; Addicted to Stress; Getting Things Done; Never Be Late Again; Managing Life With Kids; The Four-Hour Workweek; Time Management for the Creative Person – and left off the classic How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life by Alan Lakein.
I have tried the ideas, implemented the steps – and I still have not come close to mastering this challenge.
If you manage your time really well, you don’t need this book. And I envy you. If you don’t manage your time well, this book is probably a great new book to read.
But actually doing it – well, good luck!
The time management problem – for must of us, it is the ultimate knowing-doing gap.
I had breakfast with Robert Morris this week. Robert is the business book reviewer extraordinaire for Amazon and Border’s, along with a few other venues that use his expertise. We pondered this question: with so many business books out there, why are there not more excellent companies that remain excellent over the long haul? It is a good question. He calls this the knowing-doing gap. And it is a mystery.
First, an obvious problem. I present synopses for 24 books a year – minimum. At least half of these are business books. I don’t remember what I read from month to month – at least, not with great precision and detail. If I can’t remember, chances are that I am not fully implementing all the new wisdom I gain each month. I suspect this is a problem for many. We are inundated with information, and this means that we can’t stop, and then ponder, and then implement the best ideas that we read (or hear). But – we still have this concern: what do we do with all of this new, fabulous, useful information?
Let’s start with this question: how do you read a business book? This is not as simple a question as it sounds. Because there seems to be plenty of evidence that a lot of business people read a lot of business books and seldom implement the kinds of changes to their organizations, or their own lives, that would indicate that they had learned and implemented the lessons found in such books. In fact, implementation/execution – actually making changes — is the only evidence that such lessons have been learned.
In other words, the purpose of reading business books is not to say, “Yes, I’ve read that book.” It is to find something new, better, useful — that you can then put into practice. In other words, you have not learned until you know what to do, and then you actually do, what you learn to do.
So – how do you read a business book? Let’s try this list of questions as a place to start when reading any business book:
1) First, what is the key transferable content? What does this book say to me that would lead me to make changes in the way that I work, and the way my organization functions – for the better?
2) Ask, “What am I already doing well, that this book reinforces as valuable? KEEP DOING IT!
and then, ask
3) What am I not doing that if I did do, it would move me, and my organization, in the direction of greater effectiveness and success?
and then ask,
4) What am I doing badly that I need to stop, or change, immediately?
And then, just to remind you that you are not as dumb or as ineffective as you think, ask this:
5) How am I already ahead in areas covered in this book? In other words, what could the author have learned from me, to include in this book?
For a shorthand version of these questions, try these:
• What did I not know that I now know?
• What have I not done that I could/should do – now?
• What have I never even considered that I need to give major consideration to — now?
My baseball-coaching son would add this to this discussion. He coaches teenagers, and he says that you never tell a player to correct more than two things at a time. Anything more, and the player feels overwhelmed, and corrects nothing. So – maybe the First Friday Book Synopsis is just right. Two books a month are presented. Aim for one “incremental” step toward greater effectiveness and success from each book. Spend the month working on these two matters. And then, the next month’s synopses can provide a couple of new steps to tackle.
Yes, I know that every book has more than one good change to recommend and implement. But, improvement overload can stop us all in our tracks. So – pick a couple a month. Go to work, and then watch and evaluate what happens.
I think this is how to read a business book. What do you think?