▼Closing the Knowing & Doing Gap▼
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Interview With My Mentors
PROFESSORS JEFFREY PFEFFER
& ROBERT SUTTON
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Why can't we get anything done?
If we're so well trained and so well informed, then why aren't we a lot more effective?
Why is it that, at the end of so many books and seminars, leaders report being enlightened and wiser, but not much happens in their organizations?
...knowledge is only useful if you do something with it.
Doing something actually requires DO...iNG something!
The reason that we've fallen into this knowing-doing gap is this: Doing something actually requires doing something! It means tackling the hard work of making something happen. It's much easier and much safer to sit around and have intellectual conversations, to gather large databases, to invest in technical infrastructure — and never actually implement anything.
Around the turn of the century, Edison Labs was a place filled with people who were tinkering and doing. Thomas Edison did more than create great inventions; he built a place where people tested their ideas, occasionally blew things up, and then tried again.
Companies often confuse talking with doing. They think that talking about doing something is the same thing as doing it! That planning is the same as doing. That giving presentations is the same as doing. That making reports is the same as doing. Or even that making a decision to do something is the same as doing it. All of those errors occur with alarming regularity in companies today.
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Mistaking talk for action is worse than just a simple error:
Talk can actually drive out action.
Studies about the way that meetings actually work demonstrate that negative people are perceived as being smarter than positive people — that is, being critical is interpreted as a sign of intelligence.
You see this attitude in business all the time: The fastest way for me to seem smart is to cut you down. So you come up with an idea, and I come up with a thousand different reasons why that idea won't work. Now everyone sees you as dumb and me as smart — and we've created an environment where no one wants to come up with ideas.
Would you let a great talker perform heart surgery on you?
Today, there are experts on everything except how to get things done. And we reward that expertise — in the IPO market, in the academic world, and in the job market. For example, there's no question that the stock market has had an influence on the business shift from doing to knowing. The market has made it eminently clear that it is willing to pay — and pay well — for ideas. Whether you can actually execute those ideas or not is irrelevant. Today, there are countless companies that have come up with great ideas but can't implement them. But the market still rewards those companies.
The educational establishment must take some responsibility for this problem. Think about what business schools do: They train people to talk about ideas. But the one thing that business schools don't do is train students to do anything.
Ask yourself this question: Would you undergo heart surgery if the surgeon had been trained in the same way that business-school students are trained? Imagine that the surgeon had sat around in medical school discussing heart-surgery cases, watching heart-surgery videos, and listening to great heart surgeons talk about what they did — and now you're lying on the operating table, that surgeon's first real patient. Would you actually let that surgeon cut you open? I don't think so!
Why do people get paid more for talking about things than...for actually doing them?
The truth is that business school is all about talking, not doing. And what's one of the top jobs that B-school students take when they graduate? Management consulting!
I've always found the job market to be perplexing for this reason: You can be a plant manager — actually have what it takes to run a plant -- and make $80,000 to $100,000 a year. Or you can talk about plant management and make twice that.
The message from the job market is that it's more important and more valuable to be clever than it is to have the ability to make something happen.
The good news is that companies are beginning to recognize that it's not only critical to know; it's also very important to do.
The speed with which your competitors can copy even the best idea has increased much faster than the advantage that you get from having come up with that idea in the first place.
Look at what's happened with patents: The economic life span of most patents has decreased. The time lag between coming up with an idea, introducing that new idea to the market, and having it copied has decreased. And that's happening in a variety of industries, both in products and in services. So while having knowledge is useful, it's not sufficient. It gives you much less competitive leverage than it once did.