thinking out loud

…things that are on my mind, heart, and soul

The Knowing-Doing Gap


During a run today I loaded up a message from John Ortberg on my iPod. It was the first in a new series of teachings they are doing at Menlo Park Church based upon the Sermon on the Mount; the series is called, “The World’s Greatest Talk.” I really appreciate John’s teaching and over the years I have learned a great deal from him – not only about theology, the Scriptures and the kingdom of God, but about the art of communication as well. John is a masterful communicator and his grasp of the Scriptures and understanding of the interworkings of the human psyche make for some powerful messages.

John referenced a study that was done a number of years ago by a couple Stanford Business School professors, Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton. The results of the study eventually ended up in a book, “The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action.” Here’s the essence of it:

The most menacing phenomenon most organizations face is the knowing-doing gap, where knowledge is not implemented. This phenomenon costs billions of dollars and failures of all kinds. The world is full of knowledge experts but short on doers who can implement knowledge personally and/or organizationally. The most destructive aspect of the knowing-doing gap is the substitution of various talking activities for action where myriad members of the organizations make decisions that change nothing.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the knowing-doing gap only existed in organizational life? Unfortunately, most of us know all to well that it exists in our own life experience. I got smacked round a bit today by the reality of the knowing-doing gap.

A couple of weeks ago at a music rehearsal, I broke a string on the acoustic guitar I was playing. Instead of taking the time to change the string, Joe simply handed me another guitar to carry me through. I had never played the guitar before, but immediately fell in love with it. A black Godin ACOUSTICASTER – a serious guitar crush if you will. This morning I began to fantasize about the guitar. I imagined the amazing songs I could play on it and the sounds it would produce. I imagined how cool it would look – actually how cool I would look if I were playing it (you never knew I was so shallow).

Now you might be thinking, what’s the big deal. Here’s the big deal. Our community of faith is in the midst of a series of worship gatherings wrapped around the theme, “The Big Give.” The purpose of the series is to see compassion unleashed and to help our community grow in our generosity quotient. Guess who is doing the teaching? I have been challenging our community to face the demons of consumerism and to give stuff away.And I had even spent much of the morning reflected upon these words from 1 Timothy 6:17-19:

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

And all I could think of was a way to obtain this guitar.

It was a good thing I listened to John’s message this afternoon and as I heard these familiar words of Jesus, I realized afresh the knowing-doing gap in my life needs to be confronted head on.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

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4 Responses

  1. marlaena says:

    my favorite line from the matrix is “there’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path”

  2. gabrièlle says:

    it’s a cheap shot, but i’m going to have to take it…

    the real meaning is: you’re hoping joe reads this and considers it his big give to realize your dream of looking cool playing that guitar.

    sorry, i had to!

  3. thinking out loud says:

    gb, joe read my blog – not a chance…maybe you could forward it to him 🙂

  4. Dianne says:

    Been thinking about this “knowing-doing gap” the past few days. Good stuff.

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have the peace that passes understanding at the heart of yourself, but do not be at peace with the world. for the world is more malleable than we think and we must wrestle it from fools. (bono)
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