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The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action Hardcover – January 15, 2000

4.4 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Every year, companies spend billions of dollars on training programs and management consultants, searching for ways to improve. But it's mostly all talk and no action, according to Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton, authors of The Knowing-Doing Gap. "Did you ever wonder why so much education and training, management consultation, organizational research and so many books and articles produce so few changes in actual management practice?" ask Stanford University professors Pfeffer and Sutton. "We wondered, too, and so we embarked on a quest to explore one of the great mysteries in organizational management: why knowledge of what needs to be done frequently fails to result in action or behavior consistent with that knowledge." The authors describe the most common obstacles to action---such as fear and inertia---and profile successful companies that overcome them.

Among the companies that Pfeffer and Sutton say do it right: General Electric, the Men's Wearhouse, SAS Institute, Southwest Airlines, Toyota, and British Petroleum. The book, based on four years of research, is broken into chapters with titles such as "When Talk Substitutes for Action," "When Fear Prevents Acting on Knowledge," "When Internal Competition Turns Friends into Enemies," and "Turning Knowledge into Action." Each chapter contains tips on what to do and what to avoid, and provides examples of how a lethargic company culture can be transformed. The Knowing-Doing Gap is a useful how-to guide for managers looking to make changes. Yet, as Pfeffer and Sutton point out, it takes more than reading their book or discussing their recommendations. It takes action. --Dan Ring

Review

"...brash, fiery in its opinions...Pfeffer and Sutton close the knowing-doing gap; open their book and you can too!" -- Management General, December 2000

"Every once in a while a great book starts to fall below the radar screen. This is one of those books:go out of your way to find a copy and read it!" -- Management General, Spring, 2000

"The authors never leave a topic without prescribing seven or eight steps that companies can take." -- The New York Times, June 25th, 2000

"This volume will quickly assume a place among the classic, frequently cited managment books." -- National Productivity Review, Winter 1999

"Why can't we get anything done? Pfeffer and Sutton [answer this question]in their useful book." -- Fast Company, June 2000, Story by Alan Webber
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 314 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business School Press; 1 edition (January 15, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1578511240
  • ISBN-13: 978-1578511242
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #60,617 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
As a consultant working with various companies, I found the content of this book very useful in providing a framework for strategic planning sessions. One of the biggest challenges for executive leadership teams is to move from smart talk to action. Using the principles from this book, I've found leadership teams now focused not only on strategic thinking but also on translating that thinking into action. In addition, the Harvard Business Review article, "The Smart Talk Trap", was excellent pre-reading for executives prior to the strategic planning session. The case studies provided real life examples that leaders can relate to. This book is a must read for anyone struggling to implement new strategies! I intend to continue to use it with executive leadership teams.
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Format: Hardcover
I think it was the late Frank Zappa who once said that the most plentiful element in the universe was not hydrogen, it was stupidity. Followers of Dilbert will know that the corporate world is full of stupidity, but how does it get there? For me, this book went a long way to explaining why seemingly smart people do such stupid things in business and what to do about it.
If you have ever been frustrated by the way people in your company act or by yourself and your inability to get anything done, read this insight into what causes the gap between knowing what to do and actually doing it.
It all comes down to fear. If you follow the advice in the book and drive out fear, both within yourself and in those around you, things will get done. Deming, it seems, was right.
I read this at the same time as reading David Schwartz' excellent "Magic of Thinking Big". Put the two works together and the penny will suddenly drop for you, as it did for me.
From that moment forth, you will see how knowing things just isn't enough. Unapplied ideas are simply worthless vapour. What counts is getting stuff done. Results are everything.
Follow the advice in this book and you can get things done too.
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Format: Hardcover
It seems like a straightforward question: Why aren't we doing what we know we should be doing? The answer to this question, it would seem, should be both simple and complex; this book's main virtue is that it provides both. Their unblinking examinations of so many obvious and ridiculous screw-ups and mess-ups of all kinds makes the simple foolishness of it all so completely apparent (this collection of examples alone is well worth the cost of admission). But then again (thankfully), they don't oversimplify their discussion of the full range of the "human and organizational frailties" that we've all learned to know and love, and that are at the source of these kinds of problems.
If you want a hand-holding spoon-feeding checklist, look elsewhere. The authors show specifically why this kind of "checklist" attitude is a BIG part of the problem (notice how the summaries they provide at the end of each section pull together their main points nicely without oversimplifying them). However if you're looking for a guide to help you to actually think your way through these kinds of problems, as they beset you in your organizational life (and possibly in your personal life), then this is a definite "must read."
For these reasons (and both because of and in spite of its critique of MBA education practices), this book will become definite required reading in our core management course.
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Format: Hardcover
Pfeffer and Sutton provide two important lessons for managers: 1) they define the major impediments to implementing performance-enhancing innovations, and 2) they describe dozens of real-life examples of companies that either fell prey to these impediments or conquered them. The great thing about this book is that it uncovers some common mistakes that we all make, but are afraid to correct. Things like confusing "smart talk" for smart actions and relying on fear as a motivator are easily recognized as dumb managerial thinking. Yet, we've all sat in meetings and conceeded to the speaker with the big words and the intimidating manner - even if we know he or she is wrong - because we're afraid to acknowledge that we know better and because we assume that anyone with this vocabulary must be working as well as he or she is speaking. I've already used this book as an illustration of wrong management practices in my research, and intend to use it in my MBA courses.
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Format: Hardcover
I purchased this book after reading the authors' Harvard Business Review article on the "smart talk trap." I found myself nodding in agreement with the points they made in that article, and their book has proven to be equally insightful. In a clear, concise manner, Pfeffer and Sutton describe (and illustrate) some of the key organizational impediments to action and implementation, and perhaps more importantly, highlight ways to circumvent them. I highly recommend this book, especially to anyone in industry who feels analysis should be a means, not an end. And if you've grown weary of reading about the latest management fads and buzzwords, this book is a refreshing departure.
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Format: Hardcover
"I know kung fu."

In the Matrix, when Neo wants to learn kung-fu all he has to do is upload a fighting module. A few seconds later and he's sparring with Morpheus in a virtual dojo. Living in a computer simulation and being bred as an energy source for a machine master-race has its disadvantages, but at least you get to learn stuff fast. Here in the real world, much knowledge is gained the hard way - by doing. You can't just upload it. Or store it, index it or e-mail it around.

This is one of the factors behind what Jeff Pfeffer and Bob Sutton call 'the knowing-doing gap'. In this book, Pfeffer and Sutton examine why companies don't do what they know they should. The first problem is language. 'Knowledge' is a noun, so we treat knowledge as a concrete object we can manipulate, like steel or books. In reality, it's a process; the process of riding a bike, speaking French or running a company. Hence companies don't truly know what they claim they do. They might have their mission statements written down on small, laminated cards; and they might say - and even believe - that people are their most valuable assets, but this isn't true knowledge, and won't become so until they act.

Pfeffer and Sutton give plenty more reasons too. Here are just a handful:

An emphasis on talk, rather than action. It's easier to judge people on what they say than what they actually do, and that's often how we hire, reward and promote. The guy with the quick put-downs, rapid-fire banter and sarcastic comments is perceived as smarter than the quiet one in the corner who bothers nobody, knuckles down and gets stuff done.

If action is harder than talking, then mindless action is harder than thoughtful action.
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