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.
I have actually read a fair amount of Aristotle. Not in the original language (although, a little bit of that too). But in my graduate work in rhetoric, we had to read Aristotle. And he is really, really important. But, now, centuries later, his main ideas are usually summarized by others. And the summaries are accessible, make sense, and are profound. For many, a good summary is enough – enough information, enough to launch the thought processes that lead to real-world ideas and changes for the better.
From Aristotle, for example: to be persuasive (rhetoric is all about finding the available means of persuasion), you need logos (a good logical argument), ethos (a good ethical case/argument — true credibility on the part of the speaker/writer), and pathos (a good emotional argument – an engaging “this matters to me” by the speaker/writer). And a few others back from around the time of era of Aristotle add the power of a fourth element, mythos (the narrative appeal – this rings true to our story as a people/nation/company…). Now Aristotle wrote on many other themes, but you get the point. A person writes a book. Others read it. And with the passage of time, they are able to summarize, really effectively, the truths and principles and insights from books. And it helps us understand.
I thought of all this as I read this excellent summary of a series of recent books on the financial crisis. What Caused the Economic Crisis? The 15 best explanations for the Great Recession by Jacob Weisberg. (from Slate.com and Newsweek – I read it on the Slate site).
Though the crisis is recent, there is a large number of books proposing explanations for the economic crisis with clear themes and explanations proposed for consideration. Weisberg summarizes many of these, dividing the suggested explanations into themes and explanations, and concludes with this phrase:
But if we haven’t at least learned that our financial markets need stronger regulatory supervision and better controls to prevent bad bets by big firms from going viral, we’ll be back in the same place before you can say 30 times leverage.
I think the article is worth reading. I have perused a few of the books mentioned, and the article does a good job summarizing the key explanations. And learning these is important – we would really like to dig out of this crisis, and certainly to avoid similar crises in the future.
But the purpose of this post is more about the process of reading books and then learning something important from what we read. None of us (ok – very few of us) can remember all that we read. But we can remember key points, extract the most important principles and themes, and then allow these to inform our thinking and direct our practice. That is why we read (at least, why we read nonfiction and business books) – to learn, to keep learning.
I have learned this from my own experience from reading, and presenting synopses of, business books. In the last few months, I have read Outliers (Gladwell) and Talent is Overrated (Colvin), and learned that it takes 10,000 hours to get really, really good at something, and that those hours have to be spent in deliberate practice – practice for the purpose of getting better. I have read 10-10-10 by Suzy Welch, learning that decisions can be better made if we look at their impact in the next 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years. I have read The Opposable Mind (Martin) and discovered that to make the best decisions we need to hold two opposing ideas in our heads at the same time.
These are just a few of the “summaries” that I think of just from the last few months. Are these books worth reading in their entirety? Absolutely. But with all of the stories, supporting information and data in the books, it is the key principles that matter, that shape my thinking, and that I remember most from reading these books.