Knowing is not the same as doing. That’s Rule Number 18 from Alan M. Webber’s recent book, Rules of Thumb. Webber was the founding editor/owner of Fast Company, the hip business magazine he established after a long stint at the much more staid Harvard Business Review. Rules of Thumb lists 52 business insights, all written in Webber’s engaging journalistic style and peppered with great stories about how to make sense of the tumultuous world in which we live.
Of Rule 18#, Webber says: “There are two ways of knowing. One comes from the head. It’s the kind of knowing that comes from reading and thinking – it’s the kind of theorising that experts excel at. The other way of knowing comes from doing. Unlike the first form of knowing, which starts in the head and stays there, this form of knowing starts in the hands and moves up to the head and then back down again in a knowing-doing loop.” (Webber: p86)
I think we can assume that ‘hands’, in this case, means real human experience; the kind of thing we tend to devalue if we privilege theoretical over empirical forms of knowing.
Of course, both are important. And when it comes to leadership, both are necessary.
Choosing between competing ideas, promoting one person over another, investing in new systems and technologies – what evidence do you trust most and why? Is there a ‘right’ decision? Theoretical knowing can sometimes let us down when complex decision-making is required; and too much reactive ‘doing’ can stir up more mud, robbing us of the space and time needed to see deeper patterns and connections.
The CAVAL Executive Library Leadership Program 2010 explored these polarities from different perspectives. Finding what works and why were central motifs for make stuff happen in the program’s design and facilitation. That’s why leadership research and models are counter-balanced with stories from the field, providing texture and nuance, appealing to participants’ different learning styles and life experiences. Reading and thinking are important aspects of a leader’s toolkit; but of equal importance are the subjective states of curiosity, imagination, experimentation, patience and play.
With workshops in August and November, the intermediate months of the program enabled participants to scoot around the knowing-doing loop many times over. Our aim was to inspire library leaders to have confidence in their own leadership ‘rules of thumb’.
 Webber A.M. (2009) Rules of Thumb, Harper Collins, New York