From ‘Know How’ to ‘Do How’

“Necessity may be the mother of invention, but dissatisfaction is the father of most breakthroughs.”

Stuck in the Mud

In Russia, people tell a story about a poor farmer who was on his way to the market with produce to sell. He needed to arrive before his vegetables spoiled, but his handcart’s wheels got stuck in the mud of the rural road. The farmer was strong, but the more he pushed the cart, the more deeply it got mired. A stranger came along and immediately understood the problem. He saw that when the farmer pushed forward against the cart, he forced more mud under the wheels, thus embedding the cart even deeper. The stranger saw that the only way to free the cart was to pull it backward out of its muddy ruts. “Have you tried pulling the cart back out of the mud instead of pushing it?” he asked.

“It’s no use,” the farmer replied. “I’ve tried everything, and it won’t budge. I’ve pulled from the front; I’ve pushed from the back…There’s nothing more I can do.” The stranger offered to help free the cart and began to pull it backward. He wasn’t strong, but he rolled the cart slowly out of the ruts. The farmer immediately understood what the stranger was trying to do and jumped in to assist. Within a couple of minutes, the two men backed the cart out of the mud. With thanks to the stranger, the farmer hurried off to market.

This folk tale perfectly illustrates the “do-how” principle at work. The farmer’s thinking was as trapped as his cart. He had no idea how to free it and he was certain he had exhausted all his options. Since he couldn’t imagine any other way to achieve his goal, he initially discounted the stranger’s idea. However, the stranger had both the know-how (a “new way of thinking” about a problem) and the do-how (willingness and ability to tackle it) to accomplish the task. Watching the stranger succeed jolted the farmer’s thinking.

Once jolted out of his mental rut, he embraced a new solution that released his cart from its physical rut. Do-how – understanding how to do what needs to be done – manifests when you take your know-how – “knowing what to do” – and apply it in productive ways to accomplish your goals.

A Do-How Deficit

Know-how is a common commodity. Most people know how to do their jobs and if they lack specific skills, they can acquire them through research, classes, reading, training seminars or advice from others. Knowing how is not the tough part. Problems arise when people discover that they can’t translate their know-how into the do-how they need to accomplish their plans and achieve their goals.

Before you can begin to translate know-how into do-how, you must clearly identify your goals. When firm objectives are in place, people or companies can plan orderly steps for productive, results-oriented action. Failure to set new goals often stems from ingrained “habits, culture and choice.” People operate according to habitual thought patterns that, while largely opaque to the thinker, prove inordinately powerful and resistant to change. Often, real change cannot take place until people find a way to recognize and put aside or transcend their customary ways of thinking – or for organizations, their familiar ways of transacting business and the routine thinking that underlies it. The transition from knowhow to do-how is never easy, but it is learnable.

The “Do-How Map”

The “do-how map” can help you make behavioral breakthroughs by discovering and avoiding limiting hidden rules that hamper your thoughts and actions. The breakthrough cycle activates when an “idea leads to practice leads to insight leads to a breakthrough.”

The map has four steps:

1. “Recognize your do-how moments” – Do-how moments can cause notable anxiety because they occur outside your comfort zone. You may experience “fear, anger, frustration, sadness or any other negative emotion.” Recognize these feelings as helpful signposts that you are at a crossroads: a do-how moment. This is the time to block the hidden rules that normally manipulate your thinking. Take the time to reflect; “stop, look” and “choose” the best response. Don’t simply act: Think first, so you can step courageously out of your comfort zone and select a new path.

2. “Spell out the breakthrough you want” – Be precise and ambitious when you plan your desired outcome. Specify the way you want to respond to the reality you now confront, including how you will “think and behave.” Use the “four Ps”: “Picture” the desired breakthrough and describe it in totally “positive” language; be “precise” about the way your desired breakthrough “looks, sounds and feels.” Ask yourself, if everything is “possible,” what is the one thing you want to make totally attainable?

3. “Uncover your hidden rules” – Try to get in touch with your embedded assumptions, even though it isn’t easy, and examine how they affect your thinking. Your hidden rules are stories you tell yourself, like “People don’t like me” and “Things always go wrong.” Don’t automatically accept that the narratives of your hidden rules are true.

They are mental shortcuts, nothing more. To find your hidden rules, consider what you avoid, what makes you uncomfortable and in which areas you are strong. Be willing to feel a little unnerved in order to identify your hidden rules.

4. “Take responsibility for your choices” – You aren’t a victim: You are in charge of your life, your choices, your behavior and your actions. Don’t blame others – or circumstances – for your choices. The next time you confront a problem, solve it yourself. Ask yourself, “How do I want things to be?” and then decide, “What can I do now to take responsibility for getting the results I want?”

“Everybody knows that change is difficult, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.”

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