Knowledge Verses Action

For the most part we know what we need to do in life to be successful. However, knowing what we should do does not always lead to our doing it. In fact, knowledge and action often have little in common. For example, all of us know that eating unhealthy food and lack of exercise leads to a shorter life as a general rule. However, having that knowledge does not necessarily lead to a more healthy diet and regular exercise.

Ivy Lee is a name, which few people recognize, even though his ideas have affected society in a dramatic way.  What he left behind was a simple idea that has helped many turn knowledge into action. Ivy was born on July 16, 1877 in near Cedartown, Georgian. He was the son of a Methodist minister an a graduate of Princeton University. His first job was in 1903 with Citizens Union, which was founded as an independent political party with a emphasis on the concerns of New York City. He later worked as a journalist with the New York Times and for the Democratic National Convention. In 1919 he founded the highly successful and influential public relations and business counseling firm call Ivy Lee & Associates.

One day Ivy called on Charles M. Schwab the President of the Bethlehem Steel Company to offer his services. This meeting would prove to be pivotal not only to business productivity but to efficiency of individuals as well. During the meeting Lee briefly outlined the services his firm could offer Bethlehem Steel. He ended with this statement: “With our service, you’ll know how to manage better.” This statement apparently irritated Schwab who reportedly said, “I’m not managing as well as I know how. What we need around here is not more ‘knowing’ but more ‘doing’; not knowledge but action.” Schwab obviously knew that the statement made by Thomas H. Huxley was true. He said: “The great end of life is not knowledge but action.”

Schwab told Ivy Lee, “If you can give us something to pep us up to do the things we already know we ought to do, I’ll gladly listen to you and pay you anything you ask.” “Fine,” said Lee. “I can give you something in twenty minutes that will step up your ‘action’ and ‘doing’ at least 50 percent.” “O.K.” said Schwab, “I have just about that much time before I must leave to catch a train. What’s your idea?” Lee pulled a blank 3x5 note card out of his packet and handed it to Schwab and said “Write on this sheet the six most important tasks you need to accomplish tomorrow.” That took about three minutes. “Now, “ said Lee, “put this sheet in your pocket and the first thing tomorrow morning look at item one and start working on it. Pull the sheet out of your pocket every 15 minutes and look at item one until it is finished. Then tackle item two in the same way, then item three.  Do this until they are finished. Then work on items four and so on. Do this until quitting time. Don’t be concerned if you only finished two or three, or even if you finish one item. You’ll be working on the important one. The others can wait. If you can’t finish them all by this method, you couldn’t with any other method either, and without some system you’d probably not even decide which are most important.” “Spend the last five minutes of every working day making out a ‘must’ list for the next day’s tasks. After you’ve convinced yourself the worth of this system, have your men try it. Try it out as long as you wish and then send me a check for what you think it’s worth.”

The entire interview lasted about twenty-five minutes. In two weeks Schwab reportedly sent Ivy Lee a check for $25,000, which turns out to be a thousand dollars a minute for his time. Did the idea really work? In five years this method turned the unknown Bethlehem Steel Company into the biggest independent steel producer in the world and made Schwab a hundred million dollar fortune and the most recognized steel man of his era. This method can do the same for you.


 Knowledge does not always lead to action so we need something that will motivate us.
 Without a specific to-do list it is hard to stay focused and motivated to action.
 Checking off completed items on a to-do list is very rewarding and motivating.
 Doing things is not the same as getting things done.
 All tasks in life become smaller if you confront them rather than dodge them.

Carry a 3 x 5 card with you and list down the things that you need to do for the day. Focus on one task at a time until you have finished everything on your list. If something was not accomplished move it to the top of the next days list.



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