To Know, Or Not To Know – That Is The Question


Knowing and Doing Think back to the last conversation you had with someone when they said “I know” in response to a comment you made. You know darn well the other person thinks he/she ‘knows’ what you just shared, and it could not be farther from the truth. Why is that? Because as Destin Sandlin once said, “Knowledge does not equal understanding.”  Knowledge is far off from understanding, and even farther away from “doing” and applying what you know.   So how do you move from knowing something (a process, a concept, an idea) through to applying it skillfully? That is the ‘million dollar’ question. A question educators, facilitators and leaders have struggled with through the ages. We often hear in the halls of learning, “well I told them, so they should know how to do it.” It’s that kind of response that sets me ablaze, and we will address here.   In order to move from “knowing” to “doing”, we need to look at the brain, not the rational part of the brain that holds the facts but the emotional part of the brain that manages feelings, the amygdala. To get to “doing” we need to recognize three main concepts; first, you decide to move from “knowing” to “doing”, then you need to make the “doing” achievable and finally recognize that honey catches more flies. 

Decide To Move 

Often on inner dialogue sounds something like this “what if I fail, what if I get this wrong, what if I do it differently, what if I can’t remember?” and so on and so on. We have not even decided to move, and our inner saboteurs are shooting us down. First thing first, recognize that these are just that, saboteurs that are trying to protect us.   Actually, the saboteurs are rooted in our amygdala, our lizard brain. This part of the brain is hardwired to keep us alive, and it often does that by keeping us in the same patterns we are used to. The amygdala creates a flight, fight or freeze reaction in our body when we are under stress. And in life and death situations, this reaction is very helpful. It helps us jump out of the way of an accident or run away from a lion without needing to think “this is dangerous”.  When it comes to taking “knowing” to “doing”, this amygdala gets in the way. This new way does not feel safe and easy, so the amygdala sends out fear signals. The first step is to recognize them for what they are, signals, as you are experiencing something new.   Also, if you find yourself doubting this movement from “knowing” to “doing”, gut-check it with your values and beliefs. Does this new learning align with your values and beliefs, then move forward into the unknown of developing a new skill by “doing”. 

Make “Doing” Achievable 

How do you eat an elephant? Well, one bite at a time, of course. (No elephants were hurt in the creation of his blog.)  This elephant principle also applies to learning how to “do”. If possible, break the new “doing” down to smaller bites. Perhaps the process can be accomplished in stages, or the new skills can be practiced in small bites. Give yourself room to stumble, fail and even fall on your face. As Denzel Washington once said, “I want to fall… forward. At least I figure that way I’ll see what I’m about to hit.”  As you practice these new skills and rewire your brain into thinking new ways, celebrate the steps and little wins along the way.  

Honey Catches More Flies

Here is where the amygdala comes back in again. Our brain is wired to move away from pain and toward gain, hence fight, flight or freeze. The SCARF model best describes the five domains that influence our behaviour:  

  1. Status – our relative importance to others. 
  2. Certainty – our ability to predict the future. 
  3. Autonomy – our sense of control over events. 
  4. Relatedness – how safe we feel with others. 
  5. Fairness – how fair we perceive the exchanges between people to be. 

Which one do you relate most with? Once you know which one triggers you, you can then use that to create a reward system to motivate you. If you are triggered by status and don’t want others to see you stumble at something new, then hire a coach and work on those new skills ‘off-line’ to maintain your perceived status. If certainty is important to you then ask to get involved in this new change so you are in control rather than reacting. If autonomy is valuable to you then choose the time when you use this new skill. If relatedness is important, then find a peer group or “Brain Trust” and work on it together. If fairness is a driving factor, then create a support group for others feeling “off” as a result of learning new things.  In order to stay ahead of the game in this ever-changing world, we all need to take what we know and put in into action to turn “knowing” into “doing”. You do that by deciding to move, making it doable and using honey to catch the flies.   Want to learn more about SCARF and other leadership principles, reach out to Learn2 at and follow us on LinkedIn and Facebook.  


Each person has a natural communication style.
Understanding yours can and will impact how effective you are when dealing with friends, co-workers and clients.