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Facilitating Learning That Drives Performance

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6 Reasons why we don't translate knowledge to action

Knowledge_to_actionAnyone who has attended a training session on resolving conflicts at work will vouch for the importance of active listening. Yet when it comes to practicing what we learn, all hell breaks loose -  “To hell with active listening, I’ll show him who’s the boss around here !”

Why do we find it so hard to practice what we learn ? In other words, why is there such a huge gap between knowledge and action ?


Behavior(B) is a function of the person(P) and the environment(E) as proposed by Kurt Lewin, a German-American psychologist who was one of the modern pioneers of organizational psychology. So there are factors both within (P) and also outside(E) that determine people behavior. Since the external environment to a good extent is not in our direct control, let’s have a look at beliefs that are within us that create the knowing Vs doing gap.  

  1. I’ve always done it this way
  2. Everyone does it the old way so why can’t I ?
  3. What If I fail ?
  4. Bookish knowledge doesn’t work in real life
  5. I’m too busy and there is simply no time
  6. Where’s my immediate pay-off ?

1. I’ve always done it this way – When we fall into a certain pattern of behavior , it can be daunting  for our brain to re-wire itself and form new patterns of behavior. In an already over-stressed work environment, the last thing people want is to take the extra effort to change existing habits. This doesn’t matter even if the habit has not yielded many gains. Admonishing others publicly is a habit for certain supervisors. They have a strong belief that it sets an example for others and it also acts as a deterrent for the employee not to make mistakes again. A supervisor, who has this belief system, looks for evidence that confirms his belief and he conveniently ignores instances where this technique of feedback has backfired. Ask yourself, what if I did things differently ? What’s the worst that could happen ?  

2.Everyone does it the old way so why can’t I ? –  ‘Ad populum’ or appeal to common practice. The fallacy of arguing that because everyone does something, it must be all right for me to do so as well. Whether something is right or wrong cannot be judged by a vote of hands. Millions of Germans supported Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. I rest this case with one more argument. The whole world believed that the earth was flat until the 17th century.

3.What If I fail ? – We live in a society where failure of any type is frowned upon. In Being Wrong – Adventures in the margin of error',  author Kathryn Schulz  mentions  Thomas Aquinas, the medieval monk, for whom “error was not merely abhorrent but also abnormal, a perversion of the prescribed order of things.”  'Be perfect' is a life script that’s imprinted in our minds since our childhood days. It takes a considerable amount of grit, perseverance and determination to overcome fear of failure and embrace the uncertainty that is associated with trying something new. “Many a false step was made by standing still” wrote Tim Ferris  in his book 'The 4 hour workweek'. The consequences of inaction can be disastrous at times. Take that step knowing fully well that you are not infallible and learn from your mistakes.

Watch out for Part 2 of the blog post which outlines the other three remaining beliefs that prevent us from translating knowledge to action.

By Midhun Manmadhan

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