transformation of being and doing

Several years ago, Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton wrote “The Knowing-Doing Gap”. The essence of their argument is that too often, organizations fool themselves by believing that knowing what to do is enough, without actually doing. They point out the fallacy of modern management practices and theories that are based on Cartesian separation of mind and body. This type of dualism led to the separation of white collar and blue collar workers, knowledge work and physical work, and office and factory. More fundamentally, I believe, such beliefs creates the chasm between management and work, as if management primarily involves knowing while work is primarily about doing.

However, I begin to believe that there is a third element that needs to be added here. That is Being. While closing the chasm between knowing and doing is critical, it is equally critical that organizations close the gap between doing and being. The idea here is that there is a inseparable binding between who we are and what we do. Yet, merely accumulating certain doing does not necessarily lead to the transformation of being. In other words, doing deals with the appearance of our actions, while being deals with the true essence of our agency in choosing those actions.

Here is an example. My wife does many things for me. Her doing is emitted from her being, not the way around. Even if someone does all that my wife does for me, that does not still make that person my wife. On the other hand, my wife can skip some of her doing, if she chooses to do so. That does not make her less of my wife. Therefore, being gives agency and freedom, while doing restricts and constraints. This kind of idea is also found in Christian teaching. The conversion process, being born-again, is relentless focusing on being, not doing; and, with that comes a sense of liberation and freedom. Ancient fathers taught us the inseparable duality of being and doing when the conversion is true and authentic.

As I think about the proliferation of design thinking in organizations, I begin to wonder whether what we are teaching to students and managers simply focus too much on doing (methods and tools). While I cannot emphasize enough the importance of such design-centric actions, I also wonder whether we are missing an even more important message that needs to be conveyed. That is, the organization who want to embrace design must focus on collective being of a design-centric organization, as much as it focuses on design thinking methods (as doing).

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