A talk to be delivered at the July 29, 2006 meeting of The World Future
Wisdom & Leadership: Linking the Past, Present & Future.
Dr Bruce Lloyd, Professor of Strategic Management, London South Bank University
Wisdom is the way we incorporate our values into our decision making process and it is our values that determine the way we define that critical word ‘quality’. The word ‘quality’ can also be seen as another way of distinguishing process from change. Not all change is progress and it is our values that ultimately determine our priorities. It is these priorities that then become the criteria we use to distinguish between change and progress.
Decisions taken today are driven by our visions of tomorrow and based on what we learned yesterday. This basic rule applies to all decisions, irrespective of size. Every time we take any decision we are involved in some element of leadership but the bigger the decision the more critical our leadership credentials become. This presentation will review the WFS ‘Wisdom of the World’ project and discuss the key questions:
* What is Wisdom?
In essence, the paper will argue that Wisdom is the way we incorporate our values into our decision making process.
Traditionally we have seen Wisdom as the highest form of knowledge, within the Data/ Information/ Knowledge /Wisdom pyramid. But the paper will explain why that pyramid doesn’t really work.
Wisdom is certainly more than data, and it is more than just information, and not the same as knowledge.
So what makes a Wisdom different?
These issues are explored in four ways:
The paper will also explore the difference between Wisdom & being wise.
Finally there is a discussion of why we need to take the whole issue of the link between Wisdom and Leadership much more seriously, as well as how we might help improve that process and hence improve the quality of the decisions we take every day about the way the world will be tomorrow?
Wisdom & Leadership: Linking the Past, Present & Future.
by Bruce Lloyd, Professor of Strategic Management, London South Bank University
"Human history becomes more and more a race between Education and Catastrophe."
Wells (1866-1946), The Outline of History (1920).)
addition, an underlying assumption of the word 'learning' is that we are
trying to do things 'better'. We are trying to improve things. We are
trying to make progress. Of course, the concepts behind the words: 'improve',
'better' and 'progress' are powerfully values-driven words, which are
increasingly recognised to be at the core of leadership.
learning is critical, we then have to ask ourselves:
But what do we really mean by Wisdom?
According to the Wikipedia (5/8/05) entry for Wisdom:
“Wisdom is often meant as the ability and desire to make choices that can gain approval in a long-term examination by many people. In this sense, to label a choice ‘wise’ implies that the action or inaction was strategically correct when judged by widely-held values.
To acknowledge the existence of wisdom assumes order and absolute. Wisdom is recognizing the difference between good and evil and choosing what is good. To acknowledge wisdom is also to acknowledge consequences for unwise or foolish choices.
As with all decisions, a wise decision must be made with incomplete information. But to act wisely, a sage must plan a reasonable future situation, desire the outcome to be broadly beneficial, and then act.
A standard philosophical definition says that wisdom consists of ‘making the best use of available knowledge.’
Many modern authorities on government, religion and philosophical ethics say that wisdom connotes an ‘enlightened perspective’. This perspective is often defined in a utilitarian way, as effective support for the long-term common good.
Insights and acts that many people agree are wise tend to:
Wisdom can be considered to be a useful 'truth' with a long shelf life ('it has stood the test of time'), and it is particularly related to insights that are useful in understanding the relationships that work well within ourselves, and in relationships with each other and with the universe as a whole. (Hence the insights are globally recognisable.) It is important to recognise that all Wisdom is based on well founded information, but certainly it is not the case that all well founded information is Wisdom.
It is easy to recycle Wisdom, the hard thing is to put it into practice; those people who put Wisdom into practice are those who we would consider Wise. In essence. being Wise is the ability to put information/knowledge to good use. (ie: Using it in the wider interest for the long term.)
According to Daniel Yankelovitch (‘The Magic of Dialogue’, Nicholas Brealey (1999), p191) “Webster defines Wisdom as ‘the ability to judge soundly and to deal sagaciously (‘having or showing insight or Wisdom’) with the facts, especially as they relate to life and conduct’ This dictionary definition helps us to distinguish between information and Wisdom. Information is fact-driven. Wisdom is the more encompassing term; it goes beyond factual knowledge by adding values to facts. Since most public bodies bear on life conduct, we need to bring values as well as factual knowledge to bear.”
Decisions inevitably involve priorities and these inevitably have a values dimension.
are those that appear to be useful in helping us all make the world a
‘better’ place in the future. But they are only useful, if they also check
out with our own experience. Of course, that relatively simple objective
is not quite as easy as it sounds for at least two reasons:
When differences do occur, it is essentially the quality of our dialogue that, in the end, will determine the quality of the decision and outcome.
I believe it is important to explore the link between data/information/knowledge and Wisdom. The traditional approach to the data/information/knowledge/Wisdom link is to see a close relationship within a pyramid that starts with data at the bottom, moving through information and knowledge to end with Wisdom at the top. In essence, there is, somehow, greater 'added value' as we move up that pyramid.
In my view, this progression has a fundamental flaw, which arises from the relationship between these four items not being linearly related and, therefore, there is no linear step-by-step movement up the pyramid from data to Wisdom. The basically mechanistic progression is a reflection of the Newtonian tradition, repackaged by the Management Science of Taylorism. The integration of all four concepts requires at least one, if not two, quantum/qualitative jumps.
Information can certainly be considered a ‘higher’ form of data, because it provides greater context and so greater meaning/usefulness. However, the transformation of information into knowledge requires the first quantum jump. A book that describes how a jet engine works is an example of information. It is only when information is actually used that it is becomes knowledge. In essence, knowledge is information in use and, of course, it is through its use, and the feedback learning loop, that you gain further information, which then gets turned into even more effective knowledge. Overall, it is a never ending dynamic process.
But where does Wisdom come in? In essence, Wisdom is the vehicle we use for integrating our values into our decision-making processes. It is one thing to turn information into knowledge that ‘makes things happen’, but it is quite another thing to make the ‘right’ (/’good’/’better’) things happen. How we actually use knowledge depends on our values.
Instead of moving up from knowledge to Wisdom, we actually move down from Wisdom to knowledge -- and that is how we incorporate our values into our knowledge based decision-making, as well as see the application and relevance of what we generally call Wisdom. It is only possible - and justified - for decisions to be reduced to a cost/benefit analysis, if it is possible to quantify all the ‘values’ elements within the equation in monetary terms. In the past values have been included implicitly, whereas today that dimension need to be made much more – if not fully - explicit. All decisions involve the integration of the economics dimensions of value, with the ethical (ie ‘right’) dimension of ‘values’.
practice we do this all the time but, today, we are required to be more
explicit about what these values are, and how they can be – and are –
valued. This puts even greater emphasis on our ability to undertake effective
Of course, this too is a dynamic process and there is continual feedback from the experience of our actions into whether we need more information and data - what and how much more information/data we need - are also values influenced decisions. How values are assessed both as the ends, and means, of the outcome, are critically important in all our decision making.
In order to complete this picture it is useful to reverse the data/information/knowledge/Wisdom progression into Wisdom/knowledge/information/data, and consider that it is our values/Wisdom that defines the limits of what we consider acceptable in the first place, and that decision then determines our knowledge/action priorities, which then determines what information is required, and that determines what further questions need to be asked about the data required. In practice, we need to understand these two pyramids/progressions, and how they relate to each other, if we want to understand both how we incorporate values into our decision making processes, and why Wisdom plays such an important role. Although, it does need to be recognised that sometimes the way these words and concepts have been used in the past has not always helped this process. Perhaps that is one reason why wise decision making has not been as widely practiced as we would have liked? Being decisive is easy; being decisive about the ‘right’ things is the real challenge that confronts us all. I would argue that we do (and should) start with values/Wisdom as our base, which then provides the framework within which we manage knowledge, and so on through the pyramid to information and data. Consequently, without an effective base at one level, it is impossible to manage effectively the next layer up.
It is also useful to see knowledge as information in use, and Wisdom as the integration of knowledge and values, as reflected by the comments below:
is not information. Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not understanding.
Understanding is not Wisdom.”
The Function of Wisdom is to discriminate between good and evil”
is of no value unless you put it into practice.”
Hence I hope I have established the link between Wisdom and its relevance to both strategy and knowledge management, as well as leadership.
Several years ago I started collecting what I considered to be the important quotations that contained long shelf life knowledge (i.e. 'Wisdom') that, in my view, ought to be given a high priority in what we consider passing onto the next generation through learning. In many cases there is considerable scope for disagreement over who said what. But those focused on the future, rather than the past should, in my view, give priority to the message, rather than the messenger.
even when the quotation itself is well recognised, research shows that
it was based on an earlier version, with a very minor modification.
placed on the shoulders of giants see more than the giants themselves."
"We are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see
more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any
sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because
we are carried high and raised up by their giant size."
is the root of all evil."
here, there is a precedent:
values are revealed by what we do, not by what we say."
is not enough to know what is good; you must be able to do it."
the end it is our Wisdom/values that enables us to increase the propbability
that change can be equality with progress.
History does appear to show that it is incredibly easy to ignore and learning of the experiences of earlier millennia:
we still have not learned the lessons of 2000 years of history, why should
we suddenly start being able to learn it now?"
to put that another way:
if that is the case, what is education for?
examples of statements about Wisdom that reflect the points made above
is a process of piling up facts; wisdom lies in their simplification."
is like electricity. There is no permanently wise person, but people capable
of wisdom, who, being put into certain company, or other favourable conditions,
become wise for a short time, as glasses rubbed acquire electric power
for a while.”
can be communicated but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, be fortified
by it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it."
is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many people
know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool
so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is
to have wisdom."
Outweighs any wealth”
is the power that enables us to use our knowledge for the benefit of ourselves
more knowledge we have the more wisdom we need to ensure that it is used
is the intelligence if the system as a whole.”
Wise people through all laws were abolished would lead the same life.”
(Note: If this is our measure, then the vast increase in legislation over the 20th century must reflect a gowning recognition that were are all becoming less wise. Where will it end?)
a few Wisdom quotations that are specifically related to the future:
"The purpose of studying history is not to deride
human action, not to weep over it or to hate it, but to understand it
-- and then to learn from it as we contemplate our future."
The core issues of Leadership were well defined over two thousand years ago by Lao Tzu when he argued:
highest type of rule is one whose existence the people are barely aware.
we want to manage complexity successfully, and make progress in the world
today, we have to start by getting the simple things right. This needs
to be based on more effective understanding, and use, of accumulated Wisdom.
Unfortunately, all too often problems arise precisely because we haven't
got the simple things right. This includes the need for a greater emphasis
on sharing knowledge, rather than the more traditional concept of 'Knowledge
is Power'. And we need to start by focusing on ensuring that we are asking
the right questions in the first place.
as we move further into the next Millennium, both the 'Knowledge Economy'
and ‘Leadership’ are being given more and more attention. As a result,
we are, and need to be, increasingly concerned with what is the core knowledge,
distilled through the experience of history into wisdom, that is critically
important for us to preserve and pass onto future generations?
Of course, Wisdom is one thing, being wise is quite another. Being wise is certainly more than the ability to recycle Wisdom. In essence being wise involves the ability to apply wisdom effectively in practice. This issue is aptly reflected in the comment:
who are arrogant with their wisdom are not wise." (Anon)
It could be argued that one reason for the recent obsession with an information based approach is because that provides a relatively easy framework within which to get agreement of decisions and that, any focus on the values dimension would make decision making much more problematic. There are two answers to such concerns: First, values are implicitly involved in all our decision making, and all we are doing is making the discussions about the values dimension more explicit, which should be the core of all our Strategy, Leadership and Knowledge Management discussions. It is through making information/knowledge/values more explicit through more effective dialogue that we can improve the effectiveness of our learning processes. Secondly the evidence suggests that there is much more agreement across all cultures and religions about fundamental human values (and Wisdom) then is generally recognised. This view is confirmed by both the work of the Institute for Global Ethics, as well as an unpublished dissertation by Richard Hawley Trowbridge on The Scientific Pursuit of Wisdom, found ‘no indications of a conflict between religious and practical wisdom … and ‘little difference in levels of wisdom between women and men’. (email communication from author 01/09/2005)
All I am arguing is that we urgently need to take the whole subject of Wisdom much more seriously in management/leadership literature than has been the case is the past. It is critical to our understanding of The Knowledge Economy / The Knowledge Society, as well as Strategy and Leadership in general. If we cannot take Wisdom seriously now, we never will; and we will pay a very high price for this neglect. These issues are not only important for us as individuals, but they also have a profound influence on the effectiveness of our organisations, whether they are corporate, governmental or religious.
: A collection of well over 3000 ‘Wisdom based’ quotations are available
on the web site of the World Future Society ‘Messages for the New Millennium’:
www.wfs.org. (via projects).)
PROFESSOR BRUCE LLOYD
Bruce spent over 20 years in industry and finance before joining the academic world a decade ago to help establish the Management Centre at what is now South Bank University.
He has a degree in Chemical Engineering and a MSc (Economics) / MBA from the London Business School. (A member of their first cohort!) He obtained his PhD (by published work) in 1996 for his work on 'The Future of Offices and office Work: Implications for Organisational Strategy'.
His experience of industry included time with BP and the Commonwealth Development Finance Company, where he was concerned with investing in small companies in various parts of the world. During the 1980's he also spent sometime with ICI plc assisting in their New Ventures programme, particularly in Billingham.
Over the past twenty years he has been involved on the Executive of the Strategic Planning Society and as a Council Member of the (now) Chartered Management Institute. He was a member of the latter's Advisory Board for a research project on 'Leadership: A Challenge for All' and is still involved in a development of that project which is specifically concerned with leadership issues in the public sector. He was also involved in a study on the future of the Professions that was being undertaken by the Royal Society of Arts. He has been actively involved, as a past Chairman, with the Association of MBA's.
Since the late 1960's he has published about 200 articles on a wide range of strategy related issues, such as 'Economies of Scale', 'Energy Policy', 'The Future of Offices and Office Work', the link between Power, Responsibility, Leadership and Learning (including an article 'Leadership and Power: Where Responsibility Makes the Difference', in 'Coaching for Leadership: How the World's Greatest Coaches Help Leaders Learn', Edited by Marshall Goldsmith, Laurence Lyons and Alyssa Freas, Jossey-Bass (2000)) and more recently he has been exploring the relationship between Wisdom and Knowledge Management.
He has also undertaken over 30 interviews with leading thinkers on leadership published in 'Leadership and Organizational Development Journal', as well have done other interviews for the 'Tomorrow Project Bulletin'. He was the UK co-ordinator for ACUNU 'The Millennium Project' (1999-2004). His present interests focus on lecturing, researching and writing on Strategy and Futures related areas.
Contact details: London South Bank University, 103 Borough Road, London SE1 OAA, 02078158240 ….
email: firstname.lastname@example.org (and: email@example.com)