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55 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on March 12, 2000
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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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on May 10, 2000
Yes, I should have given it a 5! I totally agree to other reviewers that this book is a wake-up call for most of us - people who have difficulties in reducing the gap between knowing and doing.
I came across this book when I was preparing a speech to a local non-profit making organisation. Pfeffer and Sutton have identified serveral reasons why people tend to talk more than to do.
(1) When TALK substitutes for ACTION - making presentation instead of doing the actual stuff! (2) When MEMORY is a substitute for ACTION - limited by one's own thought and could not make a leap forward by implementing. (3) When FEAR prevents ACTING ON KNOWLEDGE - Yes! This is what bothers me for years! (4) When MEASUREMENT obstruct GOOD JUDGMENT (5) When Internal Competition turns FRIENDS into ENEMY.
This book is a consolidation of what I will call "common sense". However, with tons of examples given by the two authors, it is a wealth of knowledge.
What is missing is a lack of systematic analysis of the situation. If you are a big fan of Michael Porter (HBR Authors with his famous 5-forces model), you will find this book a bit loose.
Another reason why I have given it a 4 is because after reading Chris Agyris's book (Flawless Advice...) I have become more cautious in accepting advice from the guru. At the end of the day, it is about HOW MUCH WE HAVE CHANGED AFTER READING THIS BOOK! This is exactly why the authors have the last chapter titled as "turning knowledge into action". (I am sure if they didn't do that, they would have been critised for not walking the talk)
This book is worth-reading. Give it a try and see how much changes it brings to you. For me, I have done 3 things differently and achieved excellent results in the last 2 days! )
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on June 26, 2003
Pfeffer and Sutton caught my interest immediately in The Knowing-Doing Gap by telling the story of a major U.S. Bank who had hired 5 consulting firms in six years who made the same recommendation based on the same data. But, the recommendations had never been implemented. With billions spent on consulting, and countless M.B.A.'s in the workforce, it is amazing how much we know as compared to what we actually deliver.
As an HR person, I often struggle to find out why some people and organizations are able to get things done while others simply talk about things and cannot deliver results. It is often our role to lead the leaders and to help build the capability of our people. The authors examine the reasons why we often fail to do what we know needs to be done. We substitute talk for action, we rely on imitation or memory of the past as a substitution for new thinking, an atmosphere of fear prevents acting on what we know, we rely too heavily on measurement systems that obstruct judgment and common sense, and we compete internally instead of externally.
Several examples of companies who have demonstrated the ability to turn knowledge into action are described including British Petroleum, Barclays Global Investors, and the New Zealand Post.
After establishing that the knowing-doing gap is an important problem that must be overcome, the authors give eight guidelines for action:
1. Why before How: Philosophy is Important.
2. Knowing Comes from Doing and Teaching Others How.
3. Action Counts More Than Elegant Plans and Concepts.
4. There is No Doing without Mistakes. What is the company's Response?
5. Fear Fosters Knowing-Doing Gaps, So Drive Out Fear.
6. Beware of False Analogies: Fight the Competition, Not Each Other.
7. Measure What Matters and What Can Help Turn Knowledge into Action.
8. What Leaders Do, How They Spend their Time and How they Allocate Resources, Matters.
An easier read than Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan's Execution, The Knowing-Doing Gap gives us a better understanding of organizational processes that stand in the way of real results. The solution relies on actually turning knowledge into action. Each chapter gives solid advice which if followed will yield actionble results.

While written for the general business reader, Human resources professionals will find many ways to assist our business partners in overcoming lots of talk and no action or results. There are suggestions for overcoming obstacles, communication, leadership behavior, driving a productive corporate culture, and overcoming past behavior that is counter productive.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on August 21, 2000
Basically,I think this book has good intention. It emphasizes more on" Strategic Doing" rather than on "Strategic Thinking". It is a wake-up call for the management theorists, business consultants, and business leaders in replacing empty talks with more down to earth actions.
I think the entire management industry (including business schools,business books publishers, and the so-called management gurus,etc.) is becoming unhealthy.There are so many management courses, seminars, or workshops ,so many business books, and so many management gurus--- most with old wine, but new bottles.
Where is the meat? Where is the beef, by the way? I am sorry to say that even most of the arguments or ideas stated in Jeffrey and Sutton's book are not very new---actually there is NO Big Deal! Motivational guru W. Clement Stone, a streetwise, self-educated person, already wrote a book in 1960s, called Success System That Never Fails which has already stated out the importance of doing rather than just knowing. He has given out a lot of practical advices on how to become a DO IT NOW PERSON, while emphasizing WHAT IS COMMON SENSE IS NOT COMMON PRACTICE in a non-theoretical light.
In an overall sense, I do enjoy reading Jeffrey and Sutton's book because they have done a lot of good academic research -- spending 4 years of their life in verifying a timeless, common sensical truth---Walking the Talk is always better than Talking the Talk!
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on April 12, 2001
The key question this book addresses is: "given that knowledge of best practices is actually nearly ubiquitous, why is it that so few organizations are able to actually implement these practices?". Pfeffer and Sutton itemize some of the the key reasons, which are behavioral in nature. For example, many business cultures implicitly reward criticism of ideas and decisions more than the actual implementation of ideas. This produces a "do-nothing" situation. Also talking is often rewarded more than the actual doing. Failure of leaders to "walk the talk" is another key reason for failure to do. The book outlines some common sense approaches to overcome these barriers to action -- the key is to choose and retain the kind of people that are willing to cooperate and share knowledge, and to put in place metrics and human performance systems that encourage these behaviors. This book is a valuable complement to IT-driven based approaches to knowledge management, which by themselves are typically insufficient to yield real results.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on July 10, 2000
In plain language Pfeffer explains the obstacles that organizations face when they try to institute change. I loved the companies that he described and the chapter on measurement is a must-read for those involved in human performance. I have recommended it to the consultants that we are currently employing to help us inplement a new process and tool system.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 10, 2003
Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I Sutton are Professors of Organizational Behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business and Stanford's School of Engineering, respectively. Jeffrey Pfeffer is a well-known author on management issues. This book consists of 8 chapters, plus a short appendix.
Chapter 1 - Knowing "What" to Do Is Not Enough serves as an introduction to the book. It introduces the 'knowing-doing problem' - "the challenge of turning knowledge about how to enhance organizational performance into actions consistent with that knowledge." They discuss the methods they used during a 4-year crusade, whereby the authors have examined a wide range of organizational practices to learn about the knowing-doing gap. In chapters 2 to 6 they discuss the various issues that block organizations from implementing their knowledge. These are respectively: Talk as a substitute for action; memory as a substitute for thinking; fear preventing action; measurement obstructing good judgment; and internal competition resulting into fighting. Although the authors give some advice on methods to decrease the knowing-doing gap in these chapters, they do not really start providing solutions until chapters 7 and 8. Chapter 7 introduces case information on three firms (BP, Barclays Global Investors, and The New Zealand Post) that have been successful at either avoiding the knowing-doing gap or transcending barriers to turning knowledge into action. The final chapter is probably the most useful chapter of the complete book. Pfeffer and Sutton provide us with eight guidelines for action: (1) Why before how; (2) knowing comes from doing and teaching others how; (3) action counts more than elegant plans and concepts; (4) there is no doing without mistakes; (5) fear fosters knowing-doing gaps, so drive out fear; (6) beware of false analogies; (7) measure what matters and what can help turn knowledge into action; and (8) what leaders do matters.
Yes, I do like this book. It discusses a difficult but important issue in management and business - turning knowledge into action. The only disappointment of this book is that the authors spend about 200 pages discussing the issues that stop firms/managers/people from taking action and only 60 pages on methods for converting knowledge into effective action. In all honesty I would have rather seen it the other way around. The authors do have a very academic background and this is therefore visible in their writing style (business US-English).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon May 22, 2012
After finishing this book I felt a bit let down that there really isn't a silver bullet to taking more action. Except for having the corporate courage to actually take action and risk failure, there are no easy ways to get things done. I loved the advice about how leadership has to "show" how important action is by their own actions, not words. There are so many great ideas buried in the pages that this is a book that must be read and studied a couple of times to truly get the full picture.
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on February 25, 2015
The Knowing-Doing Gap is an insightful book for anyone that works as a management professional. As many of us have experienced in our careers, the knowing-doing gap can be a gargantuan issue for management to overcome. The main purpose of the book is to explain the dilemma of knowing what should be done,sharing it, and putting it into action. It presents real world examples of companies experiencing the knowing-doing gap and provides analysis on why companies find themselves in these situations, how they get there, and what they should be doing to eliminate the gap.

There are eight issues discussed and analyzed in detail, which are:

Knowing “What to” Do is Not Enough
The beginning of the book explains how knowing what to do just isn’t enough, and yet, most business books we read cover just that topic.
When Talk Substitutes for action
The authors point out how often upper level management will hold meetings to discuss new ideas and make decisions without discussing how to implement these changes. How to avoid using talk as a substitute for action is also discussed.
When Memory is a Substitute for Thinking
The authors explain how companies continue using old practices and ways of thinking simply because “that’s the way things have always been done”. This chapter also presents ways to overcome this “trap”, including to create a new organizational division or sub-unit, which the authors claim may be the most reliable way to ensure that people will use active thinking rather than precedent as a basis for action.
When Fear Prevents Acting on Knowledge
This section of the book discusses the topic of fear as a barrier to translating knowledge into action. It provides evidence that distrust and fear of management are problems today in many organizations.
When Measurement Obstructs Good Judgment
Some examples from the book are firms focusing on short-term financial performance and overly complex measurement philosophies. The book also goes on to explain how companies like The Men’s Wearhouse and SAS Institute have used measures for positive results.
When Internal Competition Turns Friends into enemies
This section uses examples from real companies to explain the importance of teamwork in successful companies, and also how some organizations continue to foster dysfunctional internal competition. Additionally, information on how to overcome destructive internal competition is abundant, such as implementing measures to assess cooperation in various business units.
Firms That Surmount the Knowing-Doing Gap
Pfeffer and Sutton provide specifics on how many well known companies have successfully surmounted the Knowing-Doing Gap. British Petroleum and it’s Virtual Teamwork Program, and Barclays Global Investors overcoming its challenges of global expansion and growth in personnel are two examples.
Turning Knowledge into Action
The final chapter details how to turn knowledge into action with through eight guidelines for action such as the importance of philosophy, overcoming fear, and proper measurement.

The book was a noble effort to critically explain a prevalent problem in today’s business world. The authors were successful in dissecting a complex issue. Despite this, a better subtitle for the book would be, “Why Companies Don’t Turn Knowledge into Action.” The authors spent a great deal of effort explaining the reasons why companies are unable to turn knowledge into action. What was lacking was a clear roadmap on how to overcome obstacles that prevent us from making real changes. The authors provided solid examples of successes some companies have found. It was clear that these strategies would work, except when they wouldn’t. As with most things in life, everything is situational and this book seemed to have its own “knowing-doing gap.”
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2002
This book is not so much about knowing-doing gap as about how things are done in big traditional hierarchical organization. I doubt that there are many small entrepreneurial companies that have similar problems.
When talk replaces action - when there are too many people in the company whose sole job is "analyzing", "monitoring" and "controlling". No wonder that their performance is measured by talking, presenting and writing. In a company of 10 people nobody would tolerate a "talker" for more than several days.
When memory replaces thinking - on the whole that's not a bad thing because we are talking about experience and intuition here. Big corporations have so much "memory" that they don't need to think much about anything. Actually in such cultures as Japanese intellect and formal knowledge are almost synonyms.
When measurements prevent good judgment - measurements are needed when real-life results and actual work are set too much apart. In small companies you simply deliver or not.
All other major key points of the book are also applicable mostly to big companies and don't explain why in small companies knowing - doing gap exists. Maybe because thinking replaces memory?
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