Knowledge Strategy – an emphasis on action

Posted by  Mark Schenk —November 21, 2007
Filed in Strategy

We have long advocated the importance of action over analysis in both our knowledge strategy and community of practice work and I blogged about the ‘ready, aim, aim, aim‘ phenomenon in 2005. Maybe it is because I am conscious of this issue, but in the past few months I have noticed many voices emphasizing the ‘do something’ theme, starting at the AIM Annual Convention in Sydney in September.

Here are some of the comments/quotes I have heard recently on this theme. I have heard all of them before, they just seem to be more prevalent recently.

  • “Ready…Fire…Aim” – attributed to Ross Perot
  • “You only find oil if you drill wells” – unknown
  • “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” – Wayne Gretzsky
  • “Plan a little, implement a lot” – Etienne Wenger
  • “Do-think, not think-do” – unknown
  • “You cannot think your way to success, you have to ‘do’ your way to success” – related by Tom Peters at the AIM Convention

Does anyone know of other similar quotes. More interestingly, have others noticed a trend toward action/experimentation over lengthy analysis in recent times?

Mark Schenk About  Mark Schenk

Mark works globally with senior leadership teams to improve their ability to communicate clearly and memorably. He has been a Director of Anecdote since 2004 and helped the company grow into one of the world’s leading business storytelling consultancies. Connect with Mark on:


  1. Andrew Mitchell says:

    Thanks for the post Mark. A good reminder for all procrastinators out there (including me).
    This is not directly on topic but the “do-think, not think-do” quote reminded me of:
    “Do, or do not. There is no ‘try.'” – Jedi Master Yoda

  2. John Brisbin says:

    G’Day Mark,

    Your sentiments are appreciated (one of my favourites is: “a good plan today beats a perfect plan tomorrow”), and yet you must recognise the great flow of contrary wisdom:

    • Measure twice, cut once (carpenters)
    • Act in haste, repent in leisure (monks)
    • Look before you leap (penguins)

    etc etc.

    But that’s not my main point…What I’ve noticed is the degree to which our time-proven wisdom systems are either detached or insufficient to help us in the enormously abstracted knowledge spaces many of us inhabit.

    If I sweat blood to produce a survey of decision support tools, actually getting the survey out the door is an act of “doing” that requires me to get over my doubts and misgivings and simply “do it”.

    What I produced might be precisely the real object that is needed for the occasion. In other words, I have ACTED.

    Of course, the thing I produced is a survey…a prelimnary artefact to a decision making process whose outcome in all likelihood will be a continuation of the status quo….

    Judging whether to act or to stay put in any moment is a visceral skill honed over years of experience and attentiveness: that skill is only modestly informed by one-sided aphorisms of either persuasion.

    I’m curious to hear your thoughts on how can we be better intelligence agents to inspire the bureaucracies we inhabit to “just do it” or “watch and wait” with finer levels of sensitivity and more powerful resolve?


  3. John Brisbin says:

    Ahhh, and a slightly more nuanced view, attributed to Eisenhower: “Plans are useless…but planning is essential.”

  4. Justin Kerr says:

    The Canadian management scholar – I wouldn’t call him a guru, he focuses too much, for that label, on what actually happens in organisations rather than on what ideally should happen – has been writing for many years about the poor results of separating thinking/planning from implementing. Especially in his book the Rise and Fall of Strategic Management (early 90s) and numerous freely available articles. He has also championed the ‘art’ and ‘craft’ of management as a complement to the ‘science’ of it. You can get many articles at his website

  5. “An idea without action is useless”.. Earl Nightingale
    “To Know and not to do is not to know”.. Stephen R.Covey “The 8th Habit”

  6. Robyn says:

    The Yoda quote was a great favourite of mine when I was providing nutrition education to patients needing to lost weight who would only commit to “I’ll try” after seeing their eating and exercise plans for the week.
    Around the same time I had a t-shirt made for our walking group with the following (supposedly) ancient Buddhist saying:
    “You can study the map for years but you won’t get to the village unless you start walking.”

  7. Mark Schenk says:

    Hi John
    Thanks for grounding the discussion through the examples of contrary wisdom. On reflection, the post is not about rash or uninformed action, it is more about taking deliberate and mindful action even when we can’t be certain of the outcome.
    On your question of how we can be better at inspiring organisations to take action in the face of uncertainty and with greater resolve, well I guess that’s one of the things Anecdote tries to do every day through the use of narrative and related techniques. We encourage them to use stories to understand what’s really going on, and to use this understanding to identify actions that might help create desired patterns. We also describe the attributes of complex (or wicked) problems and how these problems have no single correct answer – and the consequent need to take action and monitor what happens.
    BTW, I enjoyed your comment about the ‘visceral’ nature of our decision making.

  8. Mark Schenk says:

    Another contribution from the military…’a plan never survives first contact with the enemy’

  9. AJ says:

    Hi all,
    Oh boy. One of my favourite topics: the dichotomy between the action-men/women and the thinkers.
    Having worked in government for too long now, and seen the contempt with which ‘thinkers’ are treated, as wells as the amazing stuff-ups and inefficiencies which bureaucracies breed, I think a balance between ‘just do it’ and ‘let’s think about it from every angle’ is what works best.
    However, I totally agree with Mark that there is a decided bias aagainst -and in the case of the agency in which I work, a ruthless stomping upon anything that ever remotely resembles ‘research’ or critical thinking.
    The country’s loss, I say, as the ‘action-addicts’ waste taxpayers’ money cleaning up after they’ve leapt off the newest cliff without the slightest pause to even check their parachutes…

  10. Mark Schenk says:

    My dichotomy is more between the action men/women (prone to ill advised ‘knee-jerk’ or ‘quick-draw’ decision making in the belief they have found a silver bullet that will solve the problem) and those who won’t act until they can prove what the result will be and who either end up doing nothing or pursuing endless analysis (paralysis by analysis).
    In bureaucracies I have seen both kinds although my experience is that the latter is more prevalent, especially at a collective level. Of course it changes when we talk at the political level where the former style appears to be the order of the day. Parachutes are unnecessary due to the super powers these individuals are imbued with upon assuming office. Hmmm, I appear to have my cynical hat on tonight…

  11. Here is a link to a post on my blog that features some great pictures drawn for me by artist Julian Burton to describe this issue. Hope you find it interesting,

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