The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action Hardcover – 1 Nov 1999
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Last year in the US 1,700 books were published on business and management, 80,000 students enrolled for MBA courses, corporations spent an estimated US$43 billion on management consultancy and a further US$60 billion went on management training. It is quite clear that there is no shortage of information about how to improve business. But it is equally clear that businesses aren't improving as you would expect if mere knowledge were everything. Somehow there is an important discontinuity between knowledge and implementation.
It is this gap that Stamford academics Jeffrey Roberts and Robert Sutton identify and examine for the first time in this truly outstanding and significant book. Their methodology is cast iron. Given that everybody has equal access to knowledge, it is not the knowledge but the ability to act on it that confers competitive advantage, they argue. Four years in research, with dozens of examples and case studies, they rigorously establish not only that there is a knowledge gap, but that it matters. They then identify possible causes and suggest solutions. But the real power of this book lies not in the robustness of its construction but in its sometimes shocking, always provocative iconoclastic conclusions. "Knowledge management and business schools magnify the problem." "Talk, presentations, planning and making decisions are often a substitute for action." "Measurement obstructs good judgement" and "memory can be a substitute for thinking", they write.
As you may have guessed there are no easy solutions to the knowing-doing dilemma. "The problem is not just costs or leadership or some single organisational practice ... The gap arises from a constellation of factors and it is essential that leaders understand them all." However, they do reveal that "one of the most important insights from our research is that knowledge that is actually implemented is much more to be acquired from learning by doing than from learning by reading, listening or even thinking." In the final chapter, they then outline eight guidelines for action which should they say help to close this gap.
This really is an important book. Fresh, beautifully written and as compulsive a read as any book on management could reasonably be. It is not only a worthy read in its own right, it will add real value to all the other knowledge you acquire. --Alex Benady
From the Publisher
"Close that gap. Read this book." Management General, 2000
Every once in a while a great book leaps upon the stage, receives scant attention, and then starts to fall below the reading public's "radar screen."
This is one of those books: go out of your way to find a copy and read it! Given that "learning companies" and "knowledge workers" were two of the predominant clichés of the 1990s,Pfeffer (a management thinker) and Sutton (an engineer)got together and jointly asked why they couldn't easily find learned companies and brilliant employees? In other words, Pfeffer and Sutton boldly challenged the status quo assumption that the current crop of organizations represent the best of all possible enterprises.
In fact, they aver the opposite:"We wrote this book because we wanted to understand why so many managers know so much about organizational performance, say so many smart things about how to achieve performance, and work so hard, yet are trapped in firms that do so many things they know will undermine performance."
That's how their Preface starts, and from that moment on, this book sings about the status quo traps that snag even the best-intentioned managers.
This is a brash book, a fiery book, a true book. It examines management and organizational realities with a kind but firm eye,willing to impose "tough love" on a profession that is too easily content with gloss and cosmetic commentaries.
The authors slam -- then tell how to correct -- everyday sins such as substituting talk for action, relying on "memory" rather than truly thinking, caving in to fears, and becoming mired in internal competition...The Knowing-Doing Gap is the many readers who might have missed this copyright 2000 book when it quietly appeared mid-99. Close that gap. Read this book.
Top 10 Resources. Management General, April 2000See all Product description
Top customer reviews
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).
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!
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