Looking Around The Corner

“But one of the most important insights from our research is that knowledge that is actually implemented is much more likely to be acquired from learning by doing…” Pfeiffer and Sutton The Knowing-Doing Gap

A cornerstone that we have incorporated into many of our conversations over the last year is to determine whether we are ‘looking around the corner?’ It has turned into one of those consistent terms that we have used to guide and push our work.  We view ‘looking around the corner’ in the way Steve Jobs looked at providing people the innovations they would find indispensable and yet hadn’t even considered a necessity.  It is the visionary and long-term thinking part of leadership.  It is being able to scan the horizon and determine the best coordinates for directing the organization into the future.

Yet, as leaders we have a tendency to lose focus on the long-term visionary portion of our leadership when accountability measures and pressures to show progress take over our time and calendars.  We find ourselves just trying to keep the ship moving forward.  In fact, vision very often gets pushed aside in an effort to just keep our people and organizations moving from point A to point B.  Vision very often takes a backseat to ‘reality’.  We see a vibrant vision of our future slowly stunted by the allure of the short-term and ‘making it’ to the next point.  Ultimately, we find ourselves doing more managing than leading.

This is one of the struggles of leadership…it is not just about staying current.  Staying current is a disservice to those you lead.  Staying ahead of the curve and ‘looking around the corner’ is a 21st century leadership imperative.  It is about creating a mindset and environment in the organization that allows those you lead to ‘look around the corner’.

However, don’t be surprised when we create the environment and nothing happens.  Ideas are flowing and there is a sense of excitement of what could be, and yet…

Very often when we do allow our leadership to ‘look around the corner’ and we acquire the necessary knowledge to move our people and organization forward and nothing changes.  Silence.  Status quo and business as usual continue to reign the day,  We spend hours in meetings discussing our findings, framing the problem, issues and concerns, and we walk away.  We all leave feeling good knowing what we need to do next…and yet, nothing changes.

Pfeiffer and Sutton refer to this as the knowing-doing gap.  And their research points to this knowing-doing gap “malady” being prevalent in a many of our organizations in every type of industry.  We know what to do…we understand what the problem is…and yet we fail to implement the correct actions to provide the necessary changes to improve our work and organizations.

There is a key to this lock in changing our organizations…and that key is ‘action’.  No amount of talking, reading and training will replace a lack of action if we are going to infuse change into the process.  Without action, status quo will continue to reign us back in.

However, we have to be aware as leaders that it is not just ‘action’ that will overcome the day.  Action alone will not create change and can actually cause more harm and chaos than good.  Rather, Pfeiffer and Sutton refer to the key as “thoughtful action“.  If we are going to over come the knowing-doing gap that affects our organizations we need to include “thoughtful action” to making those ‘looking around the corner’ ideas come to life in our organizations.

“One of our main recommendations is to engage more frequently in thoughtful action.  Spend less time just contemplating and talking about organizational problems.  Taking action will generate experience from which you can learn.”

So the next time you are ‘looking around the corner’ remember to ensure those you lead leave with a ‘plan of action’, not just an ‘action plan’.


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