50 Lessons for Lawyers

Lesson 2. Understand the difference between knowing and doing. Start doing.

November 14, 2016

The future depends on what we do in the present.
– Gandhi

The wisdom in Gandhi’s quote seems so obvious. So simple. Yet, as you’ll discover throughout the 50 Lessons, simple does not mean easy.

Think about Gandhi’s quote for a moment. He doesn’t say: The future depends on what we know in the present – or what we think in the present. The future, as Gandhi so eloquently states, depends on what we do in the present.

The “simple” things often are things we already “know.” But there can be an enormous gap between “knowing” and “doing.” You know you should eat right. You know you should exercise regularly. You know you should get enough rest. You know you should start working on that brief that’s due in two weeks. But what are you doing? Doing is what counts. And doing something requires…well…doing something.

All too often we confuse knowing – or talking – with doing. Knowing what to do or talking about what you are going to do is not doing it. Would you get on an airplane if the person in the cockpit knows how to fly and can talk to you about it, but has never actually done it? In their book, The Knowing-Doing Gap,[2:1] authors Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton explain that while planning and strategizing are important functions in any organization, they often become a substitute for action.

One of the main barriers to turning knowledge into action is the tendency to treat talking about something as equivalent to actually doing something about it. Talking about what should be done, writing plans about what an organization should do, and collecting and analyzing data to help decide what actions to take can guide and motivate action. Indeed, rhetoric frequently is an essential first step toward taking action. But just talking about what to do isn’t enough. Nor is planning for the future enough to produce that future. Something has to get done, and someone has to do it.

– From The Knowing-Doing Gap

Planning is important, but as Pfeffer and Sutton note, “Action counts more than elegant plans and concepts.” Create your plan, then act on it. Period.

So now you know about the knowing-doing gap. But that’s not enough. You must do something about it. How do you move from knowing to doing, both personally and with respect to your business? First, recognize habits that may be keeping you from taking action. (More about habits in Lesson 4. Get rid of bad habits. 90% of our behavior is based on our habits, and Lesson 5. Create 12 new GOOD habits each year.) Next, understand that any action is better than none. Rosabeth Moss Kanter explains four reasons why in a post from the HBR Blog Network.[2:2]

  1. Small wins matter. Small wins pave the way for big wins. In her book, Confidence,[2:3] Kanter studied numerous business turnarounds and sports teams. Her research showed that confidence – “the expectation of a positive outcome” – built by small wins was a big reason for success.
  2. Accomplishments come in pieces. One of my favorite sayings is: “You can’t jump to the top of Mount Everest.” You must take one step at a time – one action at a time. Incremental change can produce monumental results.
  3. Forget perfection. The desire for perfection is one of the biggest reasons people procrastinate. They put off getting started because the outcome may not be perfect. So what? Start. Do. You can strive for perfection as you go along.
  4. Actions produce energy and momentum. While overwork can produce stress, many studies have shown that the more control we feel, the less stress we feel. (See Lesson 3. TANSTATM! There ain’t no such thing as time management.) Focused action will help you take more control over your life and your practice.

In his book, The E-Myth Revisited,[2:4] author Michael Gerber recounts a story about Tom Watson, the founder of IBM, who explained the phenomenal early success of the company.

IBM is what it is today for three special reasons. The first reason is that, at the very beginning, I had a very clear picture of what the company would look like when it was finally done. You might say I had a model in my mind of what it would look like when the dream — my vision — was in place.

 The second reason was that once I had that picture, I then asked myself how a company which looks like that would have to act. I then created a picture of how IBM would act when it was finally done.

 The third reason IBM has been so successful was that once I had a picture of how IBM would look when the dream was in place and how such a company would have to act, I then realized that, unless we began to act that way from the very beginning, we would never get there.

 In other words, I realized that for IBM to become a great company, it would have to act like a great company long before it ever became one.

Watson is talking about the power of acting “as if” you’ve already achieved your goals. Once you know what you want and where you want to be, start acting today “as if” you’re already there. You will be astounded at the changes you will see in your life. Dare to be great! Create your vision, then take action. Live it. Starting now. Just like IBM.

Living the Lesson

  • Commit to doing at least three things every day that are consistent with your mission and move you toward your goals.
  • Keep a “Journal of Three” to track your actions. Write down your actions as you do them each day. Remember, actions create energy and momentum. Keeping a journal will help you capitalize on that momentum and will also remind you of just how much you’ve accomplished.
  • Don’t wait to be the person you want to be. Don’t wait to create the law firm you envision. Start today. Act “as if” you’re already there, and you’ll arrive much sooner.

Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing. – Thomas A. Edison

[2:1] Sutton, Robert I. and Pfeffer, Jeffrey (1999). The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge Into Action. Perseus Books Group.
[2:2] Kanter, Rosabeth Moss. Four Reasons Any Action Is Better Than None (2011). Retrieved from http://blogs.hbr.org/kanter/2011/03/four-reasons-any-action-is-bet.html
[2:3] Kanter, Rosabeth Moss. Confidence (2006). Crown Business.
[2:4] Gerber, Michael (2009). The E-Myth Revisited. HarperCollins.

1 Comment

  1. Suhas Deshpande says:

    It’s inspiring. I’ll try to incorporate this vision from now, hope I meet the needs…

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