Just recently I had a conversation with a client that brought home as clearly as possible the knowing-doing gap I discuss in my forthcoming book, Take My Advice, I’m Not Using It. This is a client I have been working with on-and-off for 5 years. I say on-and–off because he calls me in to fix a problem his business has gotten into, we work on the problem, get things moving in the right direction and then he considers my work done until his next “crisis.” His next crisis always occurs because as soon as I am not around to keep him on course, he lapses back to old habits. He forgets or ignores my “advice” and starts the downward spiral again.
The irony of this story is that this client is a raving fan. People call me through his reference and tell me, “He said you are brilliant, that I should listen to everything you say and do it.” In our conversation last week, generated by a new “crisis” he actually said to me, “If I would have listened to you my business would not be in this mess.” All I could respond was to ask him, “So why aren’t you listening now?” He had no answer to that. He just said, “This time it really looks like my business is going under and it is too late for me to do anything now.”
What causes this knowing-doing gap in people? This client clearly knew what he had to do but for reasons discussed more in the book, he just refused to do it. Medical studies have shown that when patients are told after heart by-pass surgery that they must change their lifestyle or they are going to die, 90% continue in their old ways. This knowing-doing gap is powerful and baffling – even when they know they are killing themselves, people hold on to the old habits and resist change. The same thing occurs with too many business people, even though they know that continuing to behave in old, unproductive ways will destroy their business (and often themselves.) They won’t change. (What this client and many other business people like him really want is just relief from their feelings of anxiety – but not to actually change what is causing that anxiety.)
My job often is to facilitate that change and in more cases than not I am successful. How do I do it? First, I make sure the client recognizes how inconsistent their behavior is from what they say they want. It has been said many times but still true (and ignored) that doing the same thing in the same way and expecting different outcomes is a result of insane thinking.
I help them see that, in at least this aspect of their life, they are not thinking clearly. They must surrender to the fact that they need help from a knowledgeable, trusted advisor and support in achieving change. They must give up on any belief that they can do it on their own. Old habits are too comfortable. Left on their own, they will avoid the pain even though enduring it is the necessary ingredient for the cure. (Courageous people also experience fear of change – they just endure the pain a little longer to get past it.)
It is the clients that refuse to accept the idea of surrendering control that are almost impossible to work with. They accept no blame for what goes wrong – they can always find something else or someone else that is causing the problem. So, take away from this story that if you are having repeated problems in your business, if you know that you need to be doing something different but you just cannot or will not do it, then you need to surrender control of solution and bring in help. The dying patient is your business. You revive it and bring new life into it if you only accept that someone else can and wants to help you save it.
Have you ever had all of the necessary information and knew exactly what to do, but failed to use it? We’d love to hear your stories.