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.
This is the text I wrote for an announcement e-mail for the next Urban Engagement Book Club, which meets on December 1, here in Dallas (at the Highland Park Methodist Church, next door to SMU). I decided to share it here.
We are enamored with the new. We want the new, new thing. We want the new product, the new approach, the new company. We want to be “hip,” “with it,” “up-to-date.” We want to be “new” ourselves.
But sometimes the old is worth a more careful look. In fact, any organization that truly endures is deserving of a very careful look. What can we learn from the not-so-new – the old, the enduring?
Thus, our book selection for the December 1 Urban Engagement Book Club. Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company That Changed the World by Chris Lowney.
Form the page on Amazon:
What can a 16th-century priest tell a 21st-century business executive about leadership? Plenty, believes this author, who points out that from a 10-man “company” founded by St. Ignatius Loyola in 1540, the Jesuits are now the world’s largest religious order, with 21,000 professionals. In this absorbing, lucid book, Lowney, who left a seven-year stint as a Jesuit seminarian to become a managing director at J.P. Morgan, explores how the Jesuits have successfully grappled with challenges that test great companies-forging seamless multinational teams, motivating performance, being open to change and staying adaptable. As he takes the reader on an engaging romp through slices of Jesuit history, Lowney references four Jesuit pillars of success: self-awareness (reflection), ingenuity (embracing change), love (positive attitudes toward others) and heroism (energizing ambitions).
Leaders make great companies, but few of us truly understand how to turn ourselves and others into great leaders. The Jesuits pioneered a unique formula for molding leaders. In the process, the Jesuits built one of history’s most successful companies.
To put it simply, the Urban Engagement Book Club is trying to change the conversation a little in Dallas. We are what we think about, and we think about what we talk about. This book will help us look past our current fixation on the new, new thing, and learn a little from a truly enduring serving organization. It is a conversation worth having.
So, in the next two weeks, I will finish preparing three new book synopsis presentations:
For the Urban Engagement Book Club:
Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company That Changed the World by Chris Lowney.
For the First Friday Book Synopsis:
Blah Blah Blah: What To Do When Words Don’t Work by Dan Roam.
Demand: Creating What People Love Before They Know They Want It by Adrian Slywotzky and Karl Weber.
If you are in the DFW area, come join us at these gatherings. Just follow the links for details/more information.