Mind the Gap!

Mind the Gap!

Mind the Gap!

I grew up in London, so the phrase “Mind the Gap” has a very specific meaning for me. Written on the platform of every tube station as a warning against a potentially nasty accident, London Underground were constantly reminding us of the void between the platform and the train.

After 30 odd years in corporate land I’ve realised that there is a common and consistent gap between what is said and what is done. This happens at all levels from the organisation down to the individual. Indeed, I’ve been guilty myself on many occasions, of making commitments and not following through on them. The costs of these gaps are huge. There are the tangible costs such as delays and budget overruns and the intangible — but more important — costs, due to a loss of trust and integrity.

I’ve been trying to reduce my own gap for many years (and those of the organisations and individuals I work with) and here are my thoughts on why gaps occur and how they can be closed. There are three main reasons for gaps:

1. Talk is cheap

2. Planning is poor

3. Doing is hard.

Let’s start with cheap talk! We all know that it’s far easier to talk about doing something than to actually do it. Making promises is often expedient and usually rewarded. Difficult conversations can be avoided or delayed by simply saying yes.


The first thing we can do to reduce the gap is to slow down the rate at which we make promises and commitments. This sounds simple but isn’t so easy. It is however key. Become aware of every commitment you make and have a clear set of priorities that you can test potential commitments against. The toughest thing to learn is how to say no.

Next, is poor planning. We’re often victims of our own (and others’) unrealistic desires when we make commitments. We’re hard-wired with an optimism bias that results in the planning fallacy (first identified by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in 1979). This is a phenomenon in which predictions about how much time will be needed to complete a future task almost always underestimate the time needed.


So the second thing that will help close the gap is to improve our planning. Often this is as simple as actually making a plan and building in some contingency for the unexpected. An excellent approach is to involve others, especially those with relevant experience.

Finally, the doing. This is where the rubber really hits the road. The most useful psychological principle here was first posited by David Premack and is best summarized as, “First eat your greens and then you can have the ice cream”.


Basically, do the least desirable/harder tasks first and then you can reward yourself with something that is either easier, fun or possibly both. Your commitment planning should have been done with this front of mind.

So, in conclusion, make every day the same as a journey on the London Underground; repeatedly exhorting yourself to “Mind the Gap”.

In summary, think before committing, plan carefully and then make sure that what has been promised is done. Remember to do the harder things first and that it’s doing the small things that leads to the achievement of the big.

© Jonathan O’Donnell-Young 2017

ps https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EzvkwS64nVg

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