Know Can Do!: Put Your Know-How Into Action

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By bestselling author Ken Blanchard (whose 40+ books have sold over 18 million copies), KNOW CAN DO! tells the story of how a well known author learns to bridge the gap between what we all know-all the advice we've taken in from books, seminars, etc.-and how we actually use that knowledge.

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The Problem

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There once was a successful author who wrote about simple truths. His books were designed to help himself and others manage and motivate people in more effective ways.

Everyone who read his books loved his stories and messages. He sold millions of copies. Yet there was one thing that troubled him.

It usually reared its head when someone told him, “I’ve read all your books and really love them.”

The author had always been taught that true learning involves a change in your behavior. In fact, he thought that learning was a journey from knowing to doing. So if the person praising his work commented about a particular favorite concept, he usually asked, “How has knowing that changed the way you behave?”

Most people had a hard time answering that question. As a result, they often changed the subject by talking about another concept or some other book they were reading.

These kinds of interactions led the author to conclude that the gap between what people know— information they have picked up from books, audios, videos, and seminars—and what they do— how much they apply and use that knowledge—was significant. He found that was particularly true today with the incredible technology that makes knowledge easily accessible to everyone. People, he concluded, tend to spend considerably more time acquiring new information than developing strategies to use their newly acquired knowledge in their daily lives.

 

The Missing Link

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When the author called the entrepreneur’s cabin, he was greeted with a warm, hearty hello.

After introducing himself, the author said, “I’m sorry to disturb you at your cabin, Mr. Murray, but your assistant Evelyn told me you wouldn’t mind answering a few questions.”

“Please, call me Phil,” the entrepreneur said. “And by the way, I’m a big fan of your books.”

Within a couple of minutes, the author felt like he was talking to an old friend. When the author explained why he was calling, he could sense Phil’s excitement.

“I’ve been interested for a long time in ‘the missing link,’” said the entrepreneur.

“The what?” the author asked.

“The missing link,” repeated Phil. “That’s what’s lacking in the learning process when we just read books, listen to CDs, or attend seminars.”

“The missing link—that’s exactly what I want to find,” said the author. “People seem to enjoy the books I write, the CDs and videos we produce, and the seminars I conduct, yet I don’t see a lot of people actually using what they learn. The gap between what people know and what they do is driving me crazy!”

 

The Power of Repetition

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Two weeks later, the author was sitting in the living room of Phil Murray’s home. The whole place was elegantly casual, far more modest than a man of his means could afford. A wall of windows, however, offered an inspiring view of a deep, green valley ringed by rugged foothills.

“You said the key to overcoming the three reasons that people don’t do what they know is repetition,” said the author. “Could you tell me more about that?”

“I said repetition, repetition, repetition!” insisted the entrepreneur. “When I emphasize repetition like that, what I’m really referring to is what we call spaced repetition.”

“Spaced repetition?” wondered the author aloud.

“That’s right,” said Phil. “Spaced repetition is a learning technique where you don’t learn something in just one sitting. You’re exposed to the information periodically over time, so that it sinks in.”

“Tell me more,” said the author.

“Some people call spaced repetition behavioral conditioning or internal reinforcement. My good friend John Haggai calls it ‘the mother of all skills’ and ‘the mother of permanent change.’ That’s because one statement makes little if any permanent impact on someone. It has to be repeated over and over again. Not immediately, but after a period of time for reflection.

 

Reason 1: Information Overload

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“You mentioned that the first reason we don’t do what we know is that we suffer from information overload,” said the author. “We simply have too much knowledge. How does spaced repetition affect that?”

“Good question,” Phil said. “Information overload leads to some real problems. It immobilizes us.”

“That’s painful to hear,” said the author. “I just experienced that very thing recently at a golf school. I’m a golf nut, so I decided to go to a three-day school to improve my game. But I got the opposite result—I got worse.”

“Really?”

“Yes. They taught me too much. When I got back home and tried to play, I was awful. I had paralysis by analysis. I was working on so many things at the same time I became immobilized.”

“I’ve heard about that,” said the entrepreneur. “It must have been discouraging.”

“Given what you know about information overload, what good is it to read one book after another or attend seminar after seminar?” asked the author.

“There’s nothing wrong with reading books and attending seminars,” Murray replied. “These are fundamental learning tools, and we need them. The problem comes when we expose ourselves to new knowledge all the time with no pause for integrating our new know-how and putting it into action. If we continue to expose ourselves this way, we become brain cluttered. This is why so many people are drowning in a sea of information.”

 

Applying the Less-More Philosophy

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When the author arrived at Dwayne’s office, he found an elder statesman who had been working with the entrepreneur for many years. Dwayne had an easy style and grace that was inviting. When he smiled and told the author to have a seat in the discussion area of his office, the author felt privileged.

“So Phil’s been talking to you about closing the learning-doing gap,” Dwayne said.

“He sure has,” said the author. “I’ve seen how people—including myself—have a real challenge closing that gap. Phil says that people have to learn less more.”

Dwayne smiled. “That philosophy drives everything we do in our training, development, and educational efforts in all the companies that the entrepreneur owns.”

“What do you think about that philosophy?” asked the author. “Does it really work?”

Dwayne nodded. “Before I started working with Phil, I was the typical training director. I spent more time looking for the next new management concept than I did following up what I’d just taught our people. I would help design a tremendous training program, run everybody through it, and then look for the next new training idea. The way I judged my effectiveness was by attitudinal evaluations that participants filled out at the end of a seminar about how they liked it. We always got high grades, but the trainings weren’t all that effective. People didn’t really apply what we were teaching them.”

 

Reason 2: Negative Filtering

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After Phil greeted the author, he led him to the family dining room, where a beautiful lunch of salmon and rice pilaf had been prepared.

As they sat down to eat, the entrepreneur said, “Are you getting the kind of information you wanted?”

“Yes,” said the author, “but what I need to do is write the information down and review it over and over, don’t I?”

“As I said before, you’re a quicker learner!” said Phil.

The author said, “I think I understand how focus and repetition overcome the first reason why people don’t do what they know. I’m ready to hear about the second reason. Didn’t you say it had something to do with stinkin’ thinkin’?”

The entrepreneur smiled. “You’re right. People are often too negative, which gives them an inadequate filtering system. Let me ask you a question. Is positive thinking more powerful than negative thinking?”

“Yes, I would say so,” said the author.

“Then tell me,” said Phil, “is it a choice? Do you get to choose between positive thinking and negative thinking?”

“Of course you do,” said the author.

 

Listening with a Positive Mindset

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“The solution to retaining more of what you learn is to listen with an open, positive mindset,” said the entrepreneur. “I’ll give you some pointers on listening this way.” He got up from the lunch table, found a pad of paper, and wrote:

“This type of mind-set can spark an ‘aha!’ experience that can give you the last number in the combination to the vault of life that you’ve been looking for,” said Phil.

The author had been listening closely. “What you’re suggesting,” he said, “is that if I have a positive filtering system, instead of getting only 10 percent of what I’m hearing and reading, I will probably learn much more than I’d ever anticipated.”

“You’re getting it,” said Phil with a smile. “That often means you see connections to other things you’ve been exposed to, including ways you can apply your knowledge that you never thought of before. But that requires being open to new information, wherever it may come from. That’s the way we grow best—with an open, positive mind. Seeds planted on good soil produce many times what is sown.

 

Using Green Light Thinking

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When the author arrived at Suzanne Alcott’s office, he found a bright, energetic young woman who was excited to share her story with him.

“Phil always sends people to me nowadays when he wants to illustrate a change from a negative to a positive mind-set,” she said with a good-natured laugh.

“I’m eager to learn about it,” said the author.

“As I’m sure Phil told you, I was the wet blanket on every new idea. I went way beyond the typical job description of a skeptical chief operating officer. Luckily, at the end of my first year, Phil had a pull-no-punches performance review meeting with me.”

“Pull no punches?” the author said quizzically.

“Yep,” said Suzanne. “He was very caring but frank and direct. He said, ‘Suzanne, you’re one of the best chief operating officers I have ever known. You know your field, and I can count on you to make sure we do things the right way. But your negative, critical mind-set is driving me and everyone on our team crazy. Therefore, the number one goal I want to set with you next year is changing that mind-set.’

 

Reason 3: Lack of Follow-Up

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“You’re still an eager learner!” said the entrepreneur with a laugh. “Sounds like you’re really getting some value out of what you’ve been learning.”

“I am,” said the author, “even beyond my golf game. The idea of actually applying and benefiting from everything I learn is very appealing. According to my notes here, you said the third reason people don’t put their knowledge into action is lack of follow-up.”

“Yes,” said Phil. “Since some people, after they are exposed to something new, don’t have a follow-up plan, guess what happens?”

“I bet they revert back to old habits,” said the author.

“Bingo,” said Phil. “People need a follow-up plan to put their know-how into action. That’s exactly what I did with Suzanne. After I convinced her that she had a negative filtering system that made her a wet blanket for new ideas, if I hadn’t put a follow-up plan together, I doubt if any change would have occurred. She might have tried to listen more openly for a while, but eventually her old habit would have taken over.”

 

Accentuating the Positive to Help People Win

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Later that morning the author knocked on the door of Herb’s office. Herb obviously knew in advance that the author was coming, because he looked up and said, “I understand you like to catch people doing things right.”

“I certainly do,” replied the author. “I love the entrepreneur’s idea that to really learn how to do something, you have to be willing to be coached and study under a master. But I feel the follow-up system he got from his father—tell me, show me, let me, correct me, et cetera—doesn’t accentuate the positive. He told me you confronted him on the lack of support and the learning system you use in the company now includes catching people doing things right. I’d be interested in learning about that.”

“Be happy to share what we’re doing,” said Herb. “First, let me give you a little background. We hire two kinds of people: winners and potential winners. Winners are people who are already experienced in what we have hired them to do and have a good performance track record.”

“They don’t need much help, do they?” guessed the author.

 

Providing more Structure, Support, and Accountability

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“Yes and no,” said Herb. “I’m sure Phil told you that the third reason people don’t do what they know—lack of follow-up—is the toughest hurdle to overcome. So we have several follow-up systems to make sure that people act on what they know.”

The author got out his notebook, sensing that this might be some of the most valuable information he’d heard yet.

“I’ll give you two examples,” Herb continued. “First, we have implemented a one-on-one process in our organization. We require every manager to meet once every two weeks with each of his or her direct reports for fifteen to thirty minutes.”

“Who sets the agenda?” asked the author.

“The direct report,” said Herb. “It usually focuses on how they are doing on their goals and what, if any, help they need. But direct reports can discuss anything they want. It’s their meeting.”

“That’s real support,” said the author.

“It also provides structure and accountability,” said Herb. “Since managers meet twenty-six times a year with each of their direct reports, that provides plenty of structure. Because of these frequent meetings, when it comes to an annual performance review, there are no surprises. Accountability is built in to the one-on-one process, and that has a tremendous impact on our company’s performance and the retention of good people.”

 

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