Book review: Turning knowing into doing

Know Can Do! Put Your Know-How into Action

By Ken Blanchard, Paul Meyer and Dick Ruhe

Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.


I went to a conference in Chicago this summer and here’s what I learned.

Mr. Beef makes a truly inspired Italian beef sandwich. Just skip the small talk that seems to annoy the tough guy working the register and the out-the-door lunchtime crowd piled up behind you.

Carson’s makes the world’s best ribs so humour the old school wait staff and put on the plastic bib.

American Girl is like Vegas for scary soccer moms who’ve never surrendered their beauty queen aspirations.

On a windy day, don’t stand at the bow of the boat during the lake portion of the lake and river cruise.

Millennium Park and the path that winds for miles along the south shore of Lake Michigan offer a glimpse of what’s possible in Hamilton if we ever get our act together and somehow convince Oprah, Mayor Richard Daley and a dozen old money families and corporate head offices to relocate to Steeltown.

As for the conference itself, I’m a little hazy on the specifics.

Somewhere in my office there’s a binder with PowerPoint slides, handouts and notes scribbled in margins. No doubt there’s lots of really useful information to be exhumed for future reference.

And it’s not just the conference that draws blanks. Go ahead and ask about any of the business books I’ve read and reviewed in the past eight years. No clue what to tell you. Same goes for the never diminishing stacks of Fortune, Fast Company and Harvard Business Review magazines that I read religiously at work and home.

Lots of information going in. Not so much sticking around and taking root in my cranium.

Author Ken Blanchard runs up against the same conundrum. Lots of folks tell him they love his books. When Blanchard asks how any one of his concepts has changed their lives at work, his fans quickly change topics.

"While my books were widely read, many people did not follow through on the concepts and use them consistently in their day-to-day work," says Blanchard. "My concern was that some managers seemed to be content merely to talk about leadership practices, rather than actually implementing them."

So the author who seems to write a book a week called on behaviour change guru Paul Meyer and motivational speaker Dick Ruhe to help crack the code for closing the knowledge-doing gap.

Seems there are three reasons why we can’t or won’t learn new tricks.

Information overload is a common trap. We’re forever overdosing on knowledge and getting ourselves immobilized. We also suffer from negative filtering, or what the authors call "stinkin’ thinking". When we learn something positive, we put it down or discount it. Lack of follow-up is the final reason we can’t close the knowledge-doing gap.

The key to dealing with information overload, negative filtering and lack of follow-up? Repetition, repetition, repetition. Or to be more specific, spaced repetition which is also better known in some circles as behavioural conditioning or internal reinforcement. Whatever you call it, it’s about being exposed to the same information periodically over time until it finally takes hold.

"People should learn less more and not more less," say the authors. "To master something, we should focus on a few key concepts, repeat them over time, immerse ourselves deeply in them, and expand on the ideas and skills."

Listening with an open and positive mindset will help us retain more of what we learn. "Seeds planted on good soil produce many times what is sown," says Blanchard et al. Become a possibility thinker and an inverted paranoid who thinks the world has conspired to do only good for you.

As for follow-up, the authors recommend the five-step feedback loop of tell me, show me, let me, observe me and then praise my progress and/or redirect me.

Look at anyone in your organization who gets the job done and you’ll find the golden child who’s learned how to focus. "There is a golden thread that runs through the life of every high achiever. It is the golden thread of focus, backed by persistence. Every person of extraordinary accomplishment has the ability to focus on a target with laserlike intensity, staying on course to achieve the goal."

So maybe it’s a good idea to go easy on your diet of business books. Skip a few webinars and teleconferences. Buy fewer magazines. And take a pass on the next out-of-town conference that comes your way, unless of course it’s in Chicago and there’s a killer lineup of guest speakers and enough downtime to pay a visit to Mr. Beef and Carson’s and see the sights with a spouse who’s more than deserving of a mini-vacation.

Jay Robb is a Hamilton freelance writer who blogs at

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Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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