At the turn of the 20th Century, the industrial revolution changed everything with its love of machines and scale. Manufacturing in mass quantities created mass migration to the cities. Artisans of high complexity were replaced with pieceworkers barely more than the machines they operated. Managing armies of war became the management model for armies of employees. And we’ve seen the slow death of wisdom ever since. But why; it’s our worship of knowledge.
Wisdom n.: the quality of having knowledge, experience, and good judgment.
Our love of information goes back to our Greek-based education model of “idealism” -the power of concepts to create change. The Greeks believed we could think our way into acting differently. Ideas were of the highest good, and because of printing, ideas were easy to spread. So, in the 1900s, an ancient philosophy met a “modern” need, and mass education was born.
The results have been uneven, but the methodology has left its mark. The days of apprenticeships and journeymen have morphed into the “must have a degree” belief of today. The problem is, in an age desperate for leaders with wisdom, knowledge only gets us a third of the way.
In our thirst to know and be known for knowing, we have ignored the rest of the formula. All this understanding needs practice and applied good judgment.
I push myself to respond with love when I ask passionate young leaders why they think they deserve high starting salaries. The common refrain: “…because, I’ve got a degree and great ideas.”
We did this. We elevated degrees as the pinnacle at the cost of experience and the practice of decision making. The educated are a dime a dozen, the hard-working tactician is on the rise, but it’s the wise leader who can put them all together that is the rarest of unicorns. Be a gift to the world, cultivate wisdom in your life and the lives of those you lead.
Education: Make sure your information/training is from a variety of sources. You can study theory but include the tacticians and practitioners. Are you following people whose methods have been put to the test? Are you seeking education from those you disagree with? Ask better questions.
Experience: Just like your willingness to pay for a degree to impart information, be willing to pay with patience and time, for the chance to test out your ideas. And if you’re a leader and you can’t pay what other employers are paying, spend the equity of allowing people to stretch and risk as they work for you. A lab in which to learn is worth any downside in pay.
Decision Making: Wisdom requires decision making in the face of mounting risk. Believe in your ideas enough to put them to the test. Fail fast and often, and watch good judgment bloom. People hide failure as a sign of incompetence when it’s actually the hallmark of potential.
And if you’re a leader, practice distributed leadership. Developing staff will never learn to make quality decisions if they never feel empowered to trust themselves. Being a control freak and telling subordinates “to wait their turn” is a recipe for disaster. When the moment of need comes, and it always does, there will be no one ready to make the critical call.
The days we face will require the wisdom of Solomon. Let’s let the mounting challenges challenge our addiction to training and information. Instead, let’s prototype, push, and practice complex integration. Future generations will thank us for the wisdom in our wake.
Clifton Strengths Domains impact what we see as wisdom and how we cultivate it. Your dominant themes fall into the four domains of Executing, Influencing, Relating and Strategic Thinking. (You can Google this info or look at your Strengths Dashboard at www.gallupstrengthscenter.com where you completed the assessment.)
I’m describing each domain’s interaction in a bubble, but most people’s top 5 themes overlap two domains or more. (Although they don’t have to.)
You find truth in action, work, and measurability. You are natural practitioners as your motivation is for productivity. Your training is likely to be driven toward execution. When it comes to education, you’ll need to make sure to bring in the esoteric subjects. Include theory and big ideas but be aware of your bias toward practical and pragmatic. True innovation can be your blind spot. Work on delegation. Personal performance is so satisfying it can be hard to delegate. You need to find a new measure of success beyond your solo effort.
You can be easily enamored with possibility and legacy so you need to temper your thinking with the pragmatism of executing and strategic thinking themes. You are also likely to be addicted to momentum. Your bias toward action can make the time required for “sound judgment” feel like a roadblock or drag on progress. Underestimating timelines and efforts is par for the course. Frame dreams in reality.
Relationships are a priority. People you trust get your ear. This can make you closed to ideas from unknown sources. A human connection to diversity is required to broaden your thinking. Incorporate deadlines into your processing by visualizing the human impact of the missed commitments or lack of planning. Conversations are the most natural way to gather and process data but incorporate writing or different ways of capturing information to drive learnings deeper.
You trust your own processing first. Allowing others into your thinking is not natural but your plans will be incomplete if you ignore the execution and human elements that make ideas real. Also, when it comes to getting ideas to spread, you’ll need to understand how to frame concepts with influence to make them more viral. Build human interviews into your process as data points. It will round out your thinking. When it comes to navigating relationships, personal and professional, write the thoughts you want to share. People will find you more emotionally clear when you get to craft the words in advance.
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