Elaheh Nazari

Posted on 14th October 2020

The Knowing-Doing Gap: The Highlights

news-paper Management | News |

Why do companies not succeed even though they have lots of experts and committees and they have meetings regularly?

Five elements widen the gap between knowing and doing or in other words between talking and taking action. The term Gap is to show the differences between what we say and what really happens.

Gap in the elements

Knowing different theories is important but insufficient. Transferring knowledge into action, using ideas, and focus on how to adopt new learning is more important. If you don’t apply knowledge to something useful for the organization, the work will be delayed at least. If you learn by doing and experiencing the gap between knowledge and action will close. No one can learn to ride a bicycle by reading books and watching tutorials about riding.

The arrogance of knowing what is best can lead to ineffective use of budget and intellectual capital of people working. Unfortunately, knowledge is also viewed as a noun, which can limit the possibility of gaining further knowledge. Instead, if you focus on “learning”, an ongoing process will happen.

What are the five elements that have an impact on real life?

  1. When Talk Substitutes for Action: Talking is cheap, and at the same time can make you look clever, and you can talk like a motivational speaker or a consultant where you talk about the problem but no action is taken by you. Talking about problems, and processes is a big advantage if only used with action-orientation, or else you are wasting time and energy. At the same time don’t forget that simplicity should be valued. Simple language, philosophies, practices, and ideas are unlikely to be taken by competitors. Because most organizations prefer the complexity and think the more complex the more successful. But they don’t even try to imitate what successful organizations do. “If the solution were simple, we would have already thought of it.”
  2. When Memory Is a Substitute for Thinking: There are lots of times that you hear that the organization tried that before but it didn’t work. But they never say what they learned from it or what has changed to give it another try, or if trying the same initiative with different staff and different skills might have different results. People don’t like uncertainty so they conclude immediately. But the key to success is ongoing learning because the vision and environment keep changing as always. Also, past success can make change more difficult. When we succeed we think that our plan will always give the right answer and we resist reflection and thinking. Maybe a good example would be what happened to Nokia after touch screen phones came to market, and Nokia still stuck to its 1100.
  3. When Fear Prevents Acting on Knowledge: Just as one of Deming’s principles, Drive Out Fear, without a safe place, ideas will stay hidden. A safe space can lead to creating opportunities for deeper conversations. When there is fear, people won’t talk as much and innovating ideas will burn within themselves. When there is a fear of losing a job, employees won’t give honest feedback, but if you give them this confidence that creativity will be rewarded and followed, things will change. There should be no fear of punishment or if the idea fails.

Driving out fear during hard times

“Prediction: Give people as much information as possible about what will happen to them and when it will happen.

Understanding: Give people detailed information about why actions, especially actions that upset and harm them, were taken.

Control: Give people as much influence as possible over what happens, when things happen, and the way things happen to them; let them make as many decisions about their own fate as possible.

Compassion: Convey sympathy and concern for the disruption, emotional distress, and financial burdens that people face.”

  1. When Measurement Obstructs Good Judgment: When my cousins wanted to go to high school and choose their majors, their father told them “raise your scores or choose sports.” well they quit what they loved and tried to study hard to get A+ for the sake of their dad, and now they are regretting it, the same happens when you threaten your staff with “raise the performance of your subordinates or find a new job.” normally they just try to find a new job. You might get close to what you wanted but you will definitely lose the relationship with colleagues and stakeholders. Measuring the performance can be a part of an important assessment but if it is at the expense of relationships, then it won’t be a good long-term indicator. Some companies rank everyone and eliminate the bottom people, and they think productivity will increase. But the result can mean giving away some creative members and creating fear among others. Not only do you lose some good employees and decrease creativity but also the cost of human resources will increase. Metrics should be in line with the organization’s values, goals, and be in the form of feedback not inspection. The factors that should be counted cannot be measured, like having a passion for the work and being detailed and delegating.
  2. When Internal Competition Turns Friends into Enemies: When we talk about an organization, we talk about a system, and in a system, there should be no competition between parts, or it will fail. When you make the internal competition a culture, that means individuals become more important than the team, and teamwork will be discouraged and no one will help others, where knowledge sharing and putting knowledge to action will be reduced. Even if you want to make a competition it should be with the external environment, to drive innovation out so the teams add value to the products and services.

What should you do to overcome the gap?

First of all, don’t expect committees to transform the culture or hire a service-excellence coordinator. The first one is just about talks and wasting time, which can lead to a huge loss, and the second one will only make a headache while nothing will be done because he is just like the committees but wasting time, energy, and money individually. Also don’t ever think that more knowledge can close the gap, because more knowledge with no action enlarges the gap still more. Don’t let managers go with the “but how” question, because it is indefinite and a favored defense against taking action.

Instead of widening the gap with the wrong policy, try to reward action and not those who just go for worthless discussions. Also, trust people. Just as Frederic Laloux says in Reinventing Organizations, people are grown-ups and can decide the best. Also, try to take responsibility and change leaders’ model behaviors, so their subordinates would be able to ideate and put it into action while taking responsibility for it. Last but not least, remove the internal competition. It will do no good as was mentioned earlier. Let people learn from each other and teach them that individual success partly comes from the success of the team.


The Knowing-doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge Into Action, Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton, Harvard Business Press, 2000

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