Why do we keep searching for new information instead of implementing what we already know?

Let me explain. Over the last month of so I have been attending quite a few talks and presentations and was sitting there thinking:

This person has simply re-jigged the title but is basically presenting the same or similar content I’ve heard before

I thought a bit more about that as quite a few people in the audience were nodding approval and saying things like “Wow, isn’t that interesting”. And I wondered why.

A few possible explanations came to mind:

  • Because I am ‘more mature’ in years it could be that I have come across information some people have not been exposed to before. At times I call this ‘the curse of knowledge’ because sometimes it can work in your favour and other times not as you can get blasé about knowledge and what you think others should know.
  • It could be the first time they have been exposed to this material. The younger the audience is the more likely that is to be true.
  • It could be they have heard the information before but have forgotten about it. The phrase ‘use it or lose it’ comes to mind.

I then started reflecting on the three knowledge gaps and how they impacted on people’s thinking and application of knowledge. They are:

  1. The gap between what we know and don’t know which is essentially a training gap
  2. The gap between what we know yet fail to apply which is essentially a coaching gap
  3. The gap between what we don’t know we don’t know which is essentially an learning gap

I will make an initial comment about gap 3 which is one reason people attend seminars and talks plus listen to podcasts etc. in order to enhance or reinforce their knowledge. I think that is a good thing to do providing they take action on the knowledge they acquire, which is the whole point about coaching gap 2 and where I spend most of my time coaching people, and where I believe the largest gaps lie.

Let’s come back to the seminars I had been attending and the ‘similar information’ being provided. One of the themes within the talks were essentially around the Law of Attraction whose basic premise is ‘what you think about with feeling becomes your reality’. OK, I thought where in history do we find examples of this very old principle in action?

Without searching too hard I found four examples which stretch as far back as the bible to modern day. They are:

1. The Bible: Matthew 7:8
“For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him that knocks, the door will be open.”

2. Charles Haanel The Master Key System 1912: Chapter 2: 20
“It has been found that by plainly stating to the subconscious mind certain things to be accomplished, forces are set in operation that lead to the desired result.”

3. Think & Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill 1937: Chapter 2
“All thoughts which have been emotionalized and mixed with faith begin immediately to translate themselves into their physical equivalent or counterpart.”

4. Finally, the seminal and very popular book written in detail on this subject ‘The Secret’ by Rhonda Byrne published in 2006.

OK, so knowledge and like this has been around for thousands of years and more intensively over the last 100 years so what is the problem?

Why do we continue to search for new information, new insights or wisdom rather than simply implement what we know?

Based on my practical experience helping businesses improve over the last sixteen years I would like to offer five potential reasons why this is the case with some suggestions as to how to overcome. They are:

1. The business direction & landscape is fuzzy or unclear
2. The grass is always greener
3. Genie in a bottle
4. Attributing new learning to the only form of growth
5. Failure to capture and embed what we already know

Let’s examine each reason a little more.

1. The business direction & landscape is fuzzy or unclear

‘’If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable’’
~ Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Roman Philosopher & Statesman (4BC-65AD)

Meaning
This is essentially a problem of lack of clarity in the business directions, decisions that need to be made and the opportunities they will explore and those they will say NO to you. If those are not crystal clear about your intent then it will hard to say NO to options that present themselves cloaked in the veil of appeal but which however add no real value or wisdom to the business.

Solution
That clarity will come from having a clear and defined pathway to achieving the business vision and goals important to the business owners and other key stakeholders. This includes identifying the specific gaps in their desired and current performance. Examine ‘perfect business performance‘ resembling a jigsaw puzzle where the current gaps represent the missing part of that puzzle. There is no point chasing down jigsaw puzzle pieces that have already been filled. That we be a waste of time and energy and yet it’s what some business owners do. I’ll come to this jigsaw puzzle analogy a few times as I believe it is a relevant one.

2. The grass is always greener

Meaning
Business owners at times think that other businesses are doing things a whole lot smarter than they are and seek out to acquire that knowledge. The ‘grass is greener in my neighbour’s yard’ analogy. In reality that may or may not be the case and requires further investigation and not simply an emotional and at times frustrated response.

Partly its human nature to think that way particularly when we are struggling with certain aspects of our business model but does that mean the brightest star in the universe provide the greatest opportunity to sustain human life? We know that’s a crazy proposition and we need to take a double take and rethink our logic and put into context when assigning wisdom and value to something that merely looks or seems attractive.

Solution
At its core the solution is simple. When presented with an ‘opportunity’ whether that be in the nature of a book to read, speaker to listen to, conference to attend, CD or Podcast to listen etc. to ask yourself two key questions:
1) Will the information I am learning here help me complete one of the missing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle by providing new valuable information or re-enforcing in a positive way what I know but require it to polish off the solution?
2) Can I trust the information that will be provided to do that? In other words is the information new and experimental, or proven and trusted? And if it’s new/experimental can you have faith in it over a short period of time?

3. Genie in a bottle

Meaning
This is similar to 2 except this is the business owner who is constantly on the lookout for some form of miracle cure for his or his business problems. This is like the ‘snake oil salespeople’ of the American wild west where smooth talking salespeople in flash clothes spruiked their snake oil ( or whatever it was) to a gullible public who were promised relief from most of the ailments known to man at the time.

There is an old saying which is ‘if it looks too good to be true, it generally is’ and that has some validity.

In my experience if the business is looking for a miracle cure rather than work with what they have it generally means there is something fundamentally wrong at the core of the business, whether that be strategy and/or leadership.

Solution
The old adage of ‘get your own house in order first’ is very relevant. Look for the opportunities to internally review everything from the top down from Vision, Planning, Strategy, Marketing & Sales, Systems & Procedures and so forth. It is true that you may need some form of external help to guide you through this process but it will be a far more rewarding process that appealing to the gods for help. I often say to my clients that secret to success most of the time is simply to ‘do the ordinary, extraordinarily well’ so work hard at getting that right first.

However before I leave this subject it’s fair to say there are brilliant people and information is out there just be careful how you review and appraise that, go in with eyes wide open, informed and not closed.

4. Attributing new learning as the only form of growth

Meaning
I describe growth in two simplistic options:
1) The acquisition and application of new knowledge and information
2) The mastery of existing knowledge and information

I guess the challenge is to get the balance right but my experience indicates that there is more precedence on acquiring new information rather than working with what we have. Possible explanations are:

  • It makes sense, its human nature to want to grow with new knowledge and information.
  • Younger people in particular are looking for this form of growth as part of their career and professional development.
  • In my opinion, businesses stop short of raising the performance bar on existing quality and performance factors.

Solution
As indicated earlier it is a challenge to get the balance right however I would say and its relation to the last point made about ‘continuing to raise the performance bar’. The acquiring of new knowledge and information is important but so is perfecting what we already do. For example when I’m working with clients around customer service and touch points we have 3 standards:
1) Good
2) WOW
3) Awesome

Level 3 of Awesome is a real stretch and one that requires innovation and creativity whilst maintaining its practicality. Involve and stretch your people to think this way which is stretching the brain a little more than simply acquiring new knowledge. That’s my pitch for focusing on and perfecting what we already know before looking to the sky for inspiration.

5. Failure to capture and embed what we already know

The challenge
The fifth and final challenge I think is where the greatest opportunities to improve are, providing the lessons of 1-4 are understood and internalised. These opportunities occur at 2 keys levels.
1. We forget how much knowledge we really have.
2. The capture, retention and application of that knowledge fails due to a combination of poor processes, productivity and routines.

The solution/s
a. Preparation & pre-thought
Before you attend a seminar, read a book or listen to a podcast etc. ask yourself two key questions.
1) Am I doing this to re-enforce what I already know/gain some further insights?
2) Is this substantially new material that is being covered?

Whatever is the case you can maximise the benefits of the information being provided by identifying areas and topics of special interest. Do most people prepare in this way? No; but they should as it will allow you to focus and hone in on these areas, these specific missing pieces in your jigsaw puzzle.

A few years ago I asked two executives attending a mining conference why they were going. They both looked at me rather strange and said “Because we are in the mining industry”. I said I accept that but what would make this a great conference for you and posed a couple of questions like:
– What speaker are you most looking forward to and why?
– If you had your choice of who you could meet and possibly sit next to at dinner who would that be?

The outcome was they took that advice plus some other we discussed and subsequently described it as the best conference ever. Surprising? Not really.

b. Capturing the knowledge & wisdom
I find the following works best for me.

  • Prior to the event set aside time after the event to go over your notes and identify specifically identify the key practical wisdom and what you are going to work on.
  • During the event in question make key notes to the aspects you are specifically interested in. If there notes or links distributed as well, grab those as well.
  • When back in the office/home take that time to refresh and reinforce the key points in some form of manual or electronic note form.
  • Now comes a vitally important point. To best most effective that wisdom or new practical knowledge needs to find a home to live in whether that be an online, offline or some form of CRM. Create folders and store your information/knowledge so you can easily find it later.

Finally my absolute belief is if you do not take action, even if only one step towards implementing new knowledge, within 24 hours it will be lost. Despite our best intentions the busyness of everyday life will take over and it will most likely be forgotten.

c. Applying the knowledge and wisdom
Effective learning in its purest form is simply a result of spaced repetition therefore you need to practice newly acquired knowledge and skills. If you apply using the steps under b. above you should be successful provide it’s combined with the embedding strategies below, so let’s finish on that.

d. Embed and refresh the knowledge and wisdom
Build routines and processes to add a good level of focus and accountability using one or more of the following strategies.

  • Create a new company policy and procedure as an outcome of what you have learned.
  • Make it someone’s responsibility to focus and report on by adding as a task or KPI to a job description or standard meeting agenda where its progress will get reported on and discussed.
  • Add to the internal audit and checking processes that take place within the business.
  • Add it as a standard agenda item to the personal weekly planning and review session you have with yourself. If you are not doing that, implement it immediately.

Conclusion

If you follow the guidelines outlined above this should provide you with the clarity and focus to identify and implement what you already know perfectly. Avoid the adrenaline rush of half finishing that and dashing off to look for a ‘saviour’ solution as they rarely exist.

Look first within before looking out as the wisdom is there sitting right at your doorstep, most of the time.

Good luck with implementing some of these suggestions and if you require any help with either the theory or application then please contact me or call me (Steve) direct on 0408 754 976 to chat about your situation.