If you think of the items we have outlined in the Noise section as symptoms, the Science-to-Business Gap should be classified as one of the diseases that causes these symptoms. I'll write about four other diseases in future posts (Sublinear Productivity, Strategy-to-Performance Gap, The Engagement Gap and Organizational ADHD). Each of these produces a number of unwanted symptoms and impediments to good performance in your organization. If you can head these off before they take root then you'll be ahead of your competitors.
“If we want to strengthen our companies, elevate our lives, and improve the world, we need to close the gap between what science knows, and what business does.”
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
Closing the gap between research and practice (or what science knows and what business does) represents a change from the dominant approach to management behaviour – which operates more on intuition, anecdote and experience.
“Most managers are notoriously subjective, prone to manage by anecdote, quick to adopt best practices, and fond of big, visible initiatives...” McKinsey Quarterly, 2006, Number 3
And if we want to move away from commonly used management practices, we need to understand that change itself is a difficult process.
According to the authors of Switch and Made to Stick, “the primary obstacle is a conflict that's built into our brains. Psychologists have discovered that our minds are ruled by two different systems—the rational mind and the emotional mind—that compete for control. The rational mind wants a great beach body; the emotional mind wants that Oreo cookie. The rational mind wants to change something at work; the emotional mind loves the comfort of the existing routine. This tension can doom a change effort—but if it is overcome, change can come quickly.”
The second part of the challenge is answering the question, “what do we change TO?” If you are operating based on experience and intuition now, what approach do you rely on? Do you just pick one of the billion books out there trying to sell you on the latest management fad (while selling out theatres on the rubber chicken circuit)?
Our goal is to avoid any whiff of a fad and stick to the properly-researched territories. So, rather than follow any “model” which espouses particular techniques, we like the approach of Evidence-Based Management, which “is a commitment to finding and using the best theory and data available at the time to make decisions.” We see this as a practical way to bridge the gap between science and business.
The 5 Principles of Evidence-Based Management
- Face the hard facts, and build a culture in which people are encouraged to tell the truth, even if it is unpleasant.
- Be committed to "fact based" decision-making -- which means being committed to getting the best evidence and using it to guide actions.
- Treat your organization as an unfinished prototype -- encourage experimentation and learning by doing.
- Look for the risks and drawbacks in what people recommend -- even the best medicine has side effects.
- Avoid basing decisions on untested but strongly held beliefs, what you have done in the past, or on uncritical "benchmarking" of what winners do.
There is a significant movement in medicine to apply Evidence-based Management. We think it's time for businesses to catch up.