Have you ever stopped to think through why you do things a certain way and realized that there really wasn’t a good reason?  For instance, there’s the old story about the lady that always cut off two inches of a ham before she baked it.  When anyone asked why she did that she said, "I really don’t know.  My mother always did it that way."  One day, years later, she remembered to ask her mother why she did that.  Her mother said, "I had a very small pan.  A little too small really.  And I had to cut off the end of the ham to get it to fit."

Now that’s an example of doing a certain thing repeatedly based on nothing more than tradition.  What about doing things based on an idea that’s working somewhere else?  Or that’s touted in a bestselling business book?  Or that’s encouraged by a high dollar consultant?  Got any of that going on?

One of the core assumptions in Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense (by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton) is that if we’ll dig around near the roots of our systems we’ll discover that a lot of what we’re doing is based on things that were prompted in the past by what someone else was doing (and may have been working there).  Or maybe what we’re doing is based on advice from a seminar, book or consultant.  And those things that we’re doing are sometimes "at odds with the best evidence about what works."  Pfeffer and Sutton refer to this as the "doing-knowing problem."  In other words, we’re "doing without knowing, or at least knowing enough."

So then, the question is, "how can we overcome the doing-knowing problem?"  We will need to make two commitments:

  1. We’ll need to commit to set aside assumptions and conventional wisdom and instead "hear and act on the facts."
  2. We’ll need to make "an unrelenting commitment to gather the facts and information necessary to make informed and intelligent decisions."

Want more on the ideas behind Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management?  Check out this GREAT interview that Guy Kawasaki did with Bob Sutton.

Evidence-Based Management and the Doing-Knowing Problem