Gender gap, pay gap, reality gap, this gap, that gap – what matters much more to your life is an elephant in the room that you can control – the Implementation Gap. Its existence is the primary raison d’être for my work as a mentor. Google cannot close the gap but that does not mean that it does not exist. Nor does it mean that you cannot close the gap. Read more about it here today.
Even if you did care and wanted to do something about the other gaps, internalizing the existence of, and mastery over, the Implementation Gap will significantly increase your probability of success.
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Why am I writing about this?
What is the Implementation Gap?
How Prevalent is the Implementation Gap?
Implementation Gaps in the World External to You
Implementation Gaps Specific to You
Why is it a Problem?
Why does it Persist?
1234At a personal level
1234For systems outside you
How can you Close the Implementation Gap?
1234Set the Route
1234Learning & Knowledge
1234Measuring, Monitoring & Mindfulness
1234Failure & Feedback
Why am I writing about this? [top]
Most people are not even aware of the fact that this elephant is in the room. Sometimes, being aware of the existence of a problem is half the problem solved. Not being aware leaves us with the risk of being trampled by the elephant!
How do you eat this elephant? More about that further down…
What is the Implementation Gap? [top]
I am not referring to the organizational use of the term “Implementation Gap” which is one tiny specific case of how policies set by a board, committee or senior management are not actually implemented. Nor am I referring specifically to product design or corporate process manuals that are not implemented as intended.
Instead, here is what I mean…
Prior to easy access to unimaginable terabytes of information like we have today at the end of a Google search, knowledge was a bottleneck for you and me. Without access to publications (books, journals, reports) through a library, subscription via post, or being able to borrow or purchase, we were constrained by the knowledge gap. Today, there is no knowledge gap if one can read the results of their Google search.
What remains, even today, is the elephant in the room – the Implementation Gap.
Despite high intelligence, and large amounts of information, we are unable to achieve states of good health, happiness, mastery of skills or preferred outcomes from interactions with others such as for negotiations or teaching. Why? Because we are not engaging with and closing the Implementation Gap!
How Prevalent is the Implementation Gap? [top]
Very! Definitely more prevalent than the coronavirus. It exists in everyone’s personal life, social life, economic life and in all systems around us – including establishments and especially government institutions.
Implementation Gaps in the World External to You [top]
I can think of countless examples. Here are 2 simple and obvious ones that we have all experienced.
- Education Systems – in just about every education system in the world, children leave secondary school having learned an extra language for 5 years with the vast majority having no ability to have a simple conversation in it. Some of them even have good grades on those school tests!
- Sickcare Systems – are what most people around you wrongly call healthcare systems. They do not take care of your health. If they did, they would keep you healthy and prevent you from falling sick. You go to that system once sick, and once you enter the sickcare system, you are rarely cured. You are maintained, your symptoms treated, your condition stabilized and you are sent back home until you then turn up as a repeat customer again. [Yes, in the tiny minority of cases, those sickcare systems are needed to save lives in emergency situations – there is no denying that.] Sickcare systems should be only a tiny part of a larger truly healthcare system!
Implementation Gaps Specific to You [top]
You don’t need to look far for implementation gaps around you. You will die only once and there is no return ticket. You will live many thousands of days – better make each one count!
Let us consider very basic simple examples that are quite common in our lives for External Wealth and Internal Wealth.
External Wealth – we know we face all kinds of cognitive biases that make us behave in a suboptimal manner with regard to our finances. Given how much undue importance we give to our external wealth, it’s ironic that we do not work to overcome the cognitive biases that prevent us from handling our wealth and investments in an objective manner. Implementation Gap? You can bet your last dollar!
Internal Wealth – this is true wealth and we can see, using simple examples, how an Implementation Gap exists with regard to each of its components.
- Physical Health – doing things to be fit but you still can’t seem to get to a desired body fat level
- Mental Health – exposure to more information but you still can’t seem to remember as much as is required, let alone gain some mastery in any new skill in a reasonable duration of time
- Emotional Health – meditating daily for an hour, but hardly able to move the needle when it comes to improved handling of mood, or expressions of feelings, during the rest of the day
- Spiritual Health – all those hours spent in prayer each week, but hardly experiencing any real spiritual growth outside of church and temple hours
Why is it a Problem? [top]
By definition, things being suboptimal implies a loss. This could be time being wasted or resources being inefficiently deployed. Or it could be both time and resources being wasted. Wham-bam! The worst outcome and often more common one is that the end goal is not achieved and the time and resources have been spent. That’s a triple whammy!!
Knowledge wasted – deserves a separate emphatic mention. When we do not pay attention to closing the implementation gap, often we are wasting the knowledge we have spent a long time acquiring. Example? Think about the many hundreds of hours spent at medical school yet we are able to cure very few people’s diseases and illnesses. Instead, we typically write out prescriptions to simply treat the symptoms! And our own health? Typically, terrible. We keep ourselves under the illusion that, because we have memorized anatomy, physiology, biochemistry etc, we must, by extension or association be taking care of our health.
Why does it Persist? [top]
Whether it is about things directly related to us, or about things in external systems, a common set of reasons is, what I call, the unholy trinity – pain avoidance, pleasure-seeking, energy conservation.
At a personal level these are some of the features we’ll observe:
Laziness – physical and mental/emotional
Lack of self-control – and not setting up simple environmental cues. Unfortunately, many of us fail because we rely on willpower which is a poor strategy – like wanting to sit in a café to work on your laptop all day and expect to not want to eat products made of refined flour, eggs, sugar and dairy. Good luck!
Fear – of change – status quo bias
Arrogance – “I’ve been doing this for 50 years so who are you to tell me that I should change how I do it?”
Humility – or lack, thereof – difficulty in accepting that you were making a mistake all these years is painful
Information Cascades – herd mentality – driving the following dangerous logic – “let’s just do what everyone else is doing, there’s no need to think about it – thinking is painful and surely everyone else can’t be wrong”
Social Compliance & Competition – wanting to keep up with your neighbour
For systems outside you, you might label combinations of the unholy trinity as “greed of others” or “laziness of those guys” and so on. Pot-holed roads and daily traffic congestion, unreliable emergency services, education systems where even bright students need to attend additional tuition classes, and universities that produce graduates with no real skills, law enforcement that is feared by its honest citizens rather than trusted – perhaps you live in a part of the world with such problems?
- First, spot that an Implementation Gap exists.
- Have a growth mindset, not a fixed mindset. If you are the type that says “I can’t learn anything new” then you probably have a fixed mindset. You can change that mindset over time to something like “I can learn anything”.
- Decide that you want to close the gap.
Set the Route [top]
- A critical part of crossing the Implementation Gap is knowing what route to take. How does one person sport a bikini body after 6 months while another can’t after 6 years? It’s because of choosing the right vs the wrong route? How does one person gain Level-B2 proficiency in a foreign language after 6 months, while another doesn’t after 6 years? It’s because they did or did not choose the right path. So, first, work on the route you are going to take.
- In the world, before Google maps on a handheld device, it wasn’t so easy to get around. For the specific problem, you are dealing with you may need a human version of a GPS system. Seek out a guide. [One of the important components of what I do as a mentor is precisely this – setting out the route to be followed once the goal has been identified.]
There is no point in working hard on the wrong solution! You can run fast but in the wrong direction and it still won’t get you to your goal before you die.
Learning & Knowledge [top]
- A lot of what we do or want to do in life involves learning. Set up an internal culture of becoming better at meta-learning i.e., Learning How to Learn. Notice how 2 children attending the same class arrive at each session having gained a different level of mastery between consecutive sessions? One has a better practical grasp on learning! [I have been investing time regularly in learning how to learn on a regular basis in order to improve my ROTI over a lifetime.]
- As part of playing around with the knowledge or information related to the topic, always be conscious of the phenomenon that you don’t know what you don’t know. That will help instil intellectual honesty within you.
Measuring, Monitoring & Mindfulness [top]
- Unless it’s something that is a one-off, most things can be represented in a form that allows routine measurement in some way. Measure and record. What gets measured gets managed. [Read: Your small data]
- Measuring allows us to be conscious about managing and feeds nicely into setting S.M.A.R.T. goals. Sometimes you may want to make a start on things before you begin to understand what the S.M.A.R.T. goals might be for the topic you are grappling with.
[pssst…A goal that is S.M.A.R.T. is – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timebound]
- As part of that, identify what is central versus what is peripheral. Don’t waste 80% of your time on the 20% that makes a 2% difference.
- As part of that, keep your eyes and mind open, but stay focused and don’t get distracted.
- A journal that includes a descriptive note on your daily progress will enforce progress through focus and reflection. No one else needs to see this – it’s there for you to explore your mind and how you think.
Now that you’ve spotted an implementation gap, figured out a route to cross it, armed yourself with appropriate knowledge, figured out a way to track your progress and maybe even found a guide, it’s then a question of execution.
- Be real and take the steps – don’t be lazy.
- Be realistic and take small steps – don’t plan to do X on day-1 when 0.01 X is more sustainable for 1000 days.
- Be self-reliant to reduce your probability of failure by relying on others no more than you have to.
- Focus on skills (internal) rather than certification (external). Negotiation, decision-making, problem-solving, sales, teaching – skills of that kind. Read – The Internal-External Divide.
- Deliberate practice – one of the best free guides on it is here.
Failure & Feedback [top]
Learn from your failures and improve your process. If you can get feedback from an expert, even better. Just don’t give up because you happened to fail a couple of times!
Parting Message [top]
If you look around you consciously through the day, you’ll notice umpteen instances of Implementation Gaps. The more you become capable of spotting them and then thinking through ways to close those gaps, the better you will equip yourself for an amazing life ahead.
If all this sounds complex, and you would like to be guided in detail to have the best life possible, you know how to reach me.
Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.