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  • Toby Sinclair

Book Summary - Knowing Doing Gap – How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action

Updated: Jun 7, 2021

Knowing Doing Gap book Summary

⭐ Toby's Rating: 8/10 - Recommended For: Leaders

3 Big Ideas: 💡

Knowing-Doing Gap Summary of the big ideas

  1. The biggest problem in most organisations is a failure to turn talk into action.

  2. Many organisations are designed for inaction. Their policies and reward reinforce the status quo.

  3. Humans are wired to avoid inconsistency and ambiguity. This can create a gap between what we know and what we do.

2 Knowing-Doing Gap Quotes:🎙

Best quotes from the Knowing-Doing Gap

IDEO on organisational design: “This is the best we can think of right now. The only thing we are sure of is that this structure is temporary and it is wrong. We just have to keep experimenting so it keeps getting better all the time.”

Organisation Design Quote

Leadership incorrectly think: “The performance of the team comes from the sum of individual actions rather than interdependent actions. The team is greater than the sum of individual actions.

1 Top Takeaway: 📣

When promoting change, make old behaviours impossible to do. To make it harder, increase the time, money, physical effort or mental effort required to do the old behaviour. Also, change the daily routines so that the old behaviour doesn’t fit so easily into the day.

A simple example: Sit teams together which makes it harder not to collaborate


Big ideas Expanded

A summary of the big ideas from the Knowing-Doing Gap by Jeffrey Pfeffer, Robert I. Sutton

Knowing Doing Gap Sketch Note Summary

5 Examples of the "Knowing-Doing Gap"

  1. All Talk no action

  2. Consistency with past behaviours valued over changing, even if old behaviours are ineffective

  3. Fear prevents acting on knowledge

  4. Measurements obstruct good judgement

  5. Internal competition creates inattention to results

Automatic behaviour happens when people:

  1. feel pressure to hit deadlines

  2. are fatigued or burnt out, lacking mental energy to do things differently

  3. have psychological fear – When people fear for their jobs, futures or even self-esteem, they will do what they have done in the past

  4. think quick, decisive decisions are valued by senior leaders

  5. Social Proof + Consistency = Automatic unchanged behaviour

Major events that enable change:

  1. Shock – There is a sharp interruption in what people are thinking, feeling and doing. There is something that states very clearly, the old precedent is no longer valued

  2. Strangle – Something occurs to make the old way of working very difficult to do. This is needed because otherwise, the shock of change will backfire and cause people to cling even more tightly to their old ways

  3. Specify – Clear and explicit behaviour expectations are set, and support provided for people to act in this new way.

Steps to drive out fear:

  1. Prediction – Give people as much information as possible

  2. Understanding – Give people the why, the bigger vision and purpose behind certain decisions

  3. Control – Give people as much influence over what happens, when, and the way they happen. Decentralise decision making as much as possible

  4. Compassion – Show empathy and listen to the concerns of your employees

Eight guidelines to limit the knowing-doing gap:

  1. Why – Understand the why not the how – the underlying principles and reasoning for a certain behaviour – Don’t copy/paste behaviour

  2. Teach – Ensure your senior leaders teach others – e.g. following a training course, task your senior leaders to teach that knowledge to others

  3. Reward – Value action more than plans and concepts

  4. Safety – Increase safety and allow mistakes/failures – There is no doing without mistakes

  5. Fear – Fear fosters knowing-doing gaps – drive out fear

  6. Collaborate – Promote internal collaboration not competition

  7. Measure – Measure the system – The areas that provided learning into how we are working – example, lead time

  8. Role model – Leaders must role model and value action not talk – Scrap PowerPoint presentations in place of progress review.

Knowing Doing Gap Infographic

Signs your organisation is substituting talk for action:

  1. There is a belief that managers talk/plan and others do

  2. Internal status comes from being critical of others

  3. No follow-ups are done to see if what was said was actually done

  4. Inattention to results – No reflection on if the outcome was created

  5. People forget that making a decision doesn’t change anything without action

  6. Leaders believe that once they have said it, others will do it. They do not follow up

  7. People are promoted based upon how “smart they sound” rather than the impact of their actions

  8. Complex ideas, language and concepts are valued more than simple solutions

  9. Leaders commonly ask teams to do more planning or gather more data before they can make a decision

The problem with consistency:

  1. The pressure for consistency reinforces ineffective practices. People who seek new ways of working and behave inconsistently to others are viewed as confused, indecisive and even two-faced.

  2. Commitment to past decisions signals consistency and persistence. Often considered a desirable behaviour.

  3. Humans have a “need for cognitive closure, a desire for firm answers to questions, and an aversion to ambiguity” Leaders need to become more comfortable with ambiguity. This is not intuitive.

  4. Most organisations have unwritten rules of behaviour. The cultural norms are often unknown to those within the organisation. Only by acknowledging and surfacing these unwritten rules can the organisation start to change.

  5. One of the only ways to significantly change the organisation is to create a new one. This helps break from the past and start afresh.

  6. An unstated assumption the higher you go in an organisation, the fewer mistakes you will make” – This makes senior management freeze and often become highly fearful of change. The perceived risk of losing power due to failure is greater

  7. Many companies and leaders have an incorrect model and an oversimplified view of human behaviour.

  8. Talking about change and planning for it can suck up so much energy that by the time the organisation comes around to implementing they already have change fatigue. They cannot increase effort when it is most required in the first 90 days.


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