What? So What? Now What?: Addressing the “Knowing Doing Gap”

In their excellent 200o book The Knowing Doing Gap (http://hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/1111.html), Jeff Pfeffer and Bob Sutton illustrate that there is often a big gap between knowledge of something and translating that knowledge into action.  Tell me about it.

Earlier this week, as I participated in the 2010 American Express Luxury Summit, I was struck by how often speakers referenced data and findings as if this were new knowledge.  For example, a couple of speakers mentioned in one way or another that multichannel customers are more valuable than single channel customers, and then went on to suggest that having an integrated marketing strategy might be a pretty darn good idea.

Now I can tell you from that when I was leading the multi-channel integration initiative at Sears in 2000 (yes 10 years ago!) we had quickly figured that out.  And it was around the same time that one of our key competitors (JC Penney) was referencing this fact for themselves.  When I joined Neiman Marcus as the head of strategy and multichannel marketing in 2004 we were already sharing the “multichannel customers are our best customers” story with analysts.  So in the case of both Sears and Neiman Marcus you might wonder what specific, material strategies did we had in place to leverage this knowledge in a compelling way?  The answer:  none.  Both Sears and Neiman Marcus continued to pursue their businesses fundamentally in a channel centric, rather than customer-centric way for many years beyond learning these important findings.  That are many, often complicated, reasons for why this was the case.  But lack of knowledge isn’t one of them.

Many companies are eager to develop deep customer insight so they can improve their business model.  This is a good thing.  But before you embark on a potentially costly and time consuming journey to gather new knowledge, I suggest you first look at those things you already know (or have a really strong hypothesis on).

Then ask yourself: So what?

Then ask yourself: Now what?

If it’s important enough to the core of what your business is about, then it is essential to drive to resolution.  And if your company just isn’t the kind of company that can take action on something clearly that important, then it’s time to get a new gig.

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One thought on “What? So What? Now What?: Addressing the “Knowing Doing Gap”

  1. Steve:

    Being new to this company, I’ve been interested to see how they view the “channel” vs. “customer” centric views of the world.

    As they have considered customers within the channel (direct response in-home retailing for example), they can easily see stratification and demand differentiation – but – and I think this was a challenge for Sears as well – they cannot find a clear path to speak to a “desirable” customer within this channel, without (at worst) alienating the customer who today makes up the majority of their sales. I might understand that my golden goose is aging and frail – but she’s still laying eggs.

    Hope you are well,


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