978-1-57851-124-2 / 9781578511242

The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action


Publisher:Harvard Business School Press



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About the book:

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

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