Bridging The Thinking-Doing Gap

Bridging The Thinking-Doing Gap

Management Gurus recommend a bias for action. But the problem that often plagues us is the gap, often stark, between thinking and doing.

One of my colleagues, Ridhi, was immensely knowledgeable. Ridhi had a wonderful personality; jovial and full of lively and positive energy. I enjoyed being in her company. But this was until we started working together. Gradually, to my horror, I discovered Ridhi had a strange secret about her.


If given a task or asked to be somewhere at a particular time, she would never be on time nor finish the task as per the committed timeline. Ridhi was exceptionally good as a facilitator once she got started, but the challenge was whether she would ever start on time. It was the same with the quality of her work. It was brilliant, but she would predictably miss the deadline by a mile and all commitments would be met in the breach; ditto for consulting and implementing. When it came to recommending, she was a rock star, but when it came to implementing the plans, well, schedules would go haywire. So, my initial bonhomie morphed into a guarded distance when it came to working on any initiative with her.


Ridhi is not alone with this malady. We commonly come across situations where people are good at strategising and developing plans. But when it comes to implementing or meeting the deadlines, they are unable to live up to expectations.


Labelling the Problem


Productivity gurus call it being “stuck.” Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton call it the “knowing-doing gap,” or in short, knowing what to do, but actually going ahead and doing something else or perhaps nothing at all.


Right from the morning, we receive a stream of self-help advice. Get up early, eat healthy, think positive thoughts, be honest, connect genuinely to live a better life etc. And yet, we choose to ignore all this advice in practice, or at least, accept it only partially. Perhaps, all this involves emerging from our comfort zones, which we are loath to do, irrespective of what we profess verbally.


Comfort zones are black holes that suck in all positive resolutions we may make. Modern society is constantly driving us towards a pain-free and secure existence. This, aligned with the fact that human beings are hardwired to seek comfort, which translates to us as survival. So, breaking out of this default conditioning imposed by the socioeconomic context of our present times need a propulsion of willpower and also familiarity with the relevant technics to be able to do so.


Consequences of the Gap


If left unchecked, the knowing-doing gap will leave you a shell of the person you can possibly be. It will not allow you to work towards life goals and impair your relationships. It is imperative to bear in mind the fact that unrealised or pending tasks, goals and ambitions are often the sources of anxiety and stress.


The Alternative


Very often, the fear of doing something builds up when we think about doing something, rather than rolling up our sleeves and actually doing it. Fear and resistance grow when we are avoiding the work. Most things are not as hard as trying as we think them to be. Taking small steps will remind you that this is true. It will soothe you in a way that merely thinking about taking action never will. It is easier to act your way into a new kind of thinking rather than think your way into a new way of acting, so do one little thing today and let the momentum build. Easier said than done you say! Well, here are a few things which are well within our reach to do. So, let us start doing.


• Use the Zierganick Effect: Even if the task seems very difficult, start it. Once started, tasks often take up a life of their own and are likely to pick up momentum.  


• Know Thyself: This is an ancient Greek adage, that holds true eternally. Often, we do not realise, but vacillation is in-built in our personality. For example, the fourth dichotomy of the MBTI instrument – Judging Vs perceiving tells us that those who have the Perceiving personality, keep waiting for inputs till the last minute before they conclude a task. Often, we are not aware of this aspect of our personality and we tend to close around the deadline or beyond. But, once you are aware of this aspect of your personality, you tend to take steps to plan accordingly and work around it.


• Manage energy rather than time: Align energy levels with task complexity. Try to do the most difficult part of the task at a time when you are fresh and rearing to go. Chances are that the seemingly complex will appear less difficult.


• Believe in your abilities: The oldest ploy in the book. If you believe you can, you probably can.


• Be mindful of your environment: Be aware of the distractions around you and work around ways to address them. WhatsApp will keep buzzing; you need to know how to ignore it.


• Short Deadlines: Break the task into smaller components and take up deadlines for the subtasks rather than for the whole assignment. This is a sure fire way of dealing with complex tasks you may have been putting off. Simplify them by breaking them down into components.


• Look for role models: Role models could be people who have achieved success or tasks which have got accomplished by a variety of ingenious ways.


• Make the Task more difficult: This seems counterintuitive but could actually help you to take the task more seriously. Often, we take things lightly, supremely confident that we can resolve this easily. But we put more focus on complex tasks.




Dipankar Das is the author of Cracking the CSAT Code at the Call Centre. He has worked in diverse organizations, including Genpact, Concentrix and Tata Projects Ltd. He is currently Sr Vice President and Global Head of Skill Development at iSON Experiences.


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