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The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action Hardcover – January 15, 2000
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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
"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
- Item Weight : 1.45 pounds
- Hardcover : 314 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1578511240
- ISBN-13 : 978-1578511242
- Publisher : Harvard Business School Press; 1st edition (January 15, 2000)
- Dimensions : 6.5 x 1.25 x 9.75 inches
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #370,761 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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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.”
The book then analyzes the reasons and causes of this gap through numerous examples and presents eight main recommendations: "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."
A very applicable, educational and action oriented book. One that echoes the fundamentals of execution and its importance as the ultimate benchmark of success. A must read in the area of management!
Below are key excerpts from the book:
1- "...although knowledge creation, benchmarking, and knowledge management may be important, transforming knowledge into organization action is at least as important to organizational success."
2- "Attempting to copy just what is done - the explicit practices and policies - without holding the underlying philosophies at once a more difficult task and an approach that is less likely to be successful."
3- "Talk is also valued because, as noted earlier, the quantity and "quality" of talk can be assessed immediately, but the quality of leadership or management capability, the ability to get things done, can be assessed only with greater time lag."
4- "It is possible, albeit difficult, to build strong cultures founded on principles and philosophy that can also innovate and change. But doing so requires much thought and attention. Otherwise, firms are readily trapped by their history, even if, or particularly if, that history has many positive elements in it, as Saturn's does."
5- "Conversely, fear is an enemy of the abilitiy to question the past or break free from precedent."
6- "It is clear to us that merely knowing what measurement practices should be used does not, by itself, cause leaders to implement measures that produce intelligent, mindful, learning behavior rather than the reverse."
7- "In each of the instances in which effective measurement practices were used, knowing what to do, why it needed to be done, and having the persistence and courage to do it helped leaders turn knowledge about how to enhance performance into organizational action."
8- "As Dean Tjosvold, a researcher and writer on the subject of competition and cooperation, noted, "Competition stimulates, excites, and is useful in some circumstance, but those situations do not occur frequently in organizations, and the widespread use of competition cannot be justified.""
9- "Harlow Cohen, the president of a Cleveland, Ohio, consulting firm, has called this gap between knowing and doing the performance paradox: "Managers know what to do to improve performance, but actually ignore or act in contradiction to either their strongest instincts or to the data available to them.""
10- "Knowing about the knowing-doing gap is different from doing something about it. Understanding causes is helpful because such understanding can guide action. But by itself, this knowing is insufficient - action must occur."
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But why is there such a "knowing-doing gap"? The authors' answers are fascinating. They include:
1. Our "talk" culture. Talk is cheap, but action is time-consuming and more mundane; therefore, our culture substitutes talk for action.
2. False market paradigms. Our culture--with a hint of social Darwinism--extols the virtues of competition. Managers and business leaders often think that if competition brings out the best in people, then they should increase internal competition within the firm. Pfeffer and Sutton show that this is wrong-headed. Competition, as an organising principle, works best when tasks are repetitive, and do not require interdependence among employees. For complex, intellectual tasks that require independence, co-operation works best. But does that not sound like Socialism?
3. Managers need to make judgments about their subordinates' abilities. This is usually done--if the employee is lucky--in a one-hour yearly appraisal process. How does such a busy manager judge? Well, by how `smart' the employee sounds in presentations and meetings. Never mind that the employee may have even left the company before any of her actions bear results.
The authors present case studies on successful organisations like New Zealand Post, AES, SAS that have questioned conventional wisdom, and changed the workplace philosophy to "internal co-operation, external competition".
How should firms bridge the knowing-doing gap? There is no silver bullet, but the authors recommend that companies should:
- Beware of false analogies. A knowledge firm is not like a horse race;
- Measure only what matters;
- Drive out fear from the organisation in order help employees focus on beating the competition and not each other;
I thoroughly enjoyed reading the Knowing-Doing Gap because Pfeffer and Sutton question conventional wisdom and show it to be hopelessly inadequate. They ask us to question the philosophical justifications of common business practices like the forced-ranking system; smart-talk; the supposed effectiveness of bully bosses like Al "Chainsaw" Dunlap; and management accounting practices. It is a call to question practice, to carefully think through human resource policies and to foster a more co-operative work environment, which is not only good for employee morale, but is eminently good for the bottom-line in the long run; The Knowing-Doing Gap deserves four stars.
Given the huge amount of information and management education in most organisations, most managers know what they should do, they just can't or won't do it. This book explains why - and what to do about it. A powerful combination of anecdotes and research findings spell out what causes Knowing-Doing Gaps and gives plenty of examples of organisations that have overcome them.
I was particularly pleased to find that three of the biggest case studies are all non-U.S. organisations (BP, Barclays and the New Zealand Post).
Their research shows clearly that an organisation's structures and culture are the main cause of Knowing-Doing Gaps, so you will need to be in a position to influence these to implement Pfeffer and Sutton's advice.
If you are, be prepared for the fact that this book compels you to do something about it. After all, just reading the book, finding out about the gaps and doing nothing would be doing the authors a disservice!
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. When organisations hit a problem, rather than think it through afresh they tend to follow the path laid down before, often by people long-gone and in circumstances lost in history. Processes fossilize and are never challenged. Sacred cows get fat when they should be slaughtered, just because "that's how we do things round here".
Internal competition, whether it's bonuses determined by forced-ranking or having an employee of the month, is often a zero sum game that benefits some individuals but that harms entire organisations. In such competitions, there are two ways to succeed. The hard way is to out-perform your coworkers. The easy way is to sabotage them, or belittle their achievements. It's no surprise that many people settle for the easy option.
This is a fantastic book. Like most of Pfeffer and Sutton's work, and as you'd expect from two Stanford professors, it's based on solid research. Case studies are used to illustrate theories and bring them to life, rather than to 'prove' them as many business books do. As well as explaining why the knowing-doing gap exists, the book gives ideas on how to fix them. Is your organisation paralysed by internal fighting? Then find an external enemy to focus on - that's what Apple did with IBM when they launched the first Macintosh in 1984. Is your company trapped by its history? Examine, make explicit and challenge the assumptions that lie behind its sclerotic procedures. Are your people afraid to make mistakes? Make it explicit - with your deeds and not just your words - that there is a soft landing available for those who try and fail.
The beauty of this book - like other works of Pfeffer and Sutton - is that much of it seems like common sense once you've read it. Pfeffer and Sutton have a knack of articulating ideas that you feel you already half know, but that are just - but only just - out of your grasp. As you read, you can sense them coming into focus, crystallizing out of the fog of your mind. Of course concentrating purely on short-term financial success can kill a company's culture. Of course you should commit to metrics that reflect, and don't contradict, your underlying philosophies. Of course pitting colleagues against each other is going to backfire, and of course the absurd idea that this could ever work is based on sloppy sporting analogies. But it's only once Pfeffer and Sutton have made these points - and many others - lucid that they become obvious.
Although excellent, the book - as Pfeffer and Sutton acknowledge explicitly throughout - contains one flaw. A text whose thesis is that knowledge can only be earned through action, and then hopes to teach it through words, is bound to have only partial success. Read this book - and if you're running, or working in, any organisation larger than a handful of people then you should - and you will only have taken the first step to learning about the knowing-doing gap and how to fix it. The next step?