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May 15, 2018

Wisdom at Work – #MTtalk Roundup

Yolande Conradie


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"To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe." Marilyn vos Savant.

Knowledge and Wisdom

What's the difference between knowledge and wisdom?

When someone shares knowledge with you, you might comment on how interesting it is. You might even have a conversation about it with them.

But when someone shares wisdom with you, it can have a significant impact on your heart and mind. It's profound. It makes you reflect on things, and look at things differently. You want to find ways that you can apply it to your life. You might also try to seek out the "wise person" to learn more from them.

It can be easy to forget knowledge. But wisdom can have a lasting impact that can change the fabric of your being forever.

Golden Nuggets

I was thinking about the nuggets of wisdom that have had the biggest impact on me. Here are just a few of my favourites:

  1. Meet people where they are at. You can't pull people up to your level, or force them to understand things from your perspective. You can, however, meet them where they are at and help them to develop a deeper insight, better skills, and critical thinking.
  2. Make value-based decisions. Before you make a decision, measure it against five or six of your most important values. Ask yourself if your decision fits in with these values. If it doesn't, rethink your decision. This single bit of wisdom has prevented me from making decisions that would have had terrible consequences further down the line.
  3. Ask good questions. Question everything. Examine how your assumptions might influence your thinking. Look for the tiniest sign of prejudice or biased thinking on your part, because things are not always as they seem and the obvious answer isn't always the right one. Even if it looks right or sounds good, it doesn't necessarily mean it's the wisest decision.
  4. The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know. A university professor I worked with on a literary project once said this to me. I was dumbfounded. How could a man of his standing feel like this? I was quite young, and I thought he was being too humble. But now that I've studied more, I realize that I've only just scraped the surface of what there is to know.
  5. If you're going to be everything to everyone, you're going to be nothing. This nugget comes from a podcast where Pat Lencioni was the guest speaker. I have a lot of respect for his principles, and this particular piece of advice helped me to think differently about how I prioritize my time and energy.

Wisdom at Work

When I think about wisdom, the word "intentional" often comes to mind. And I was surprised to see how often this word came up during our #MTtalk Twitter chat last week. Here are the questions we asked and some of your responses:

Q1. What is wisdom?

@harrisonia: Wisdom is gifted knowledge.

@jprofNB: I think wisdom is a combination of experience, knowledge, and knowing when to apply them.

@MaryEllenGrom: Wisdom is not only doing things right, it's doing the right things.

Q2. Which characteristics do you associate with it? 

We could probably have filled a page with your tweets about the characteristics that you think wise people should display. Here's a selection of the best:

@LernChance: A calm and relaxed approach to complex situations.

@MikeBarzacchini: Balance. Mindfulness. Thoughtfulness. Listening. Patience. That's a good start.

@Midgie_MT: There are many characteristics including listening and not necessarily saying anything, just holding the space for someone to talk and figure things out themselves.

Q3. How do knowledge and wisdom differ?

@BrainBlenderTec: Knowledge gives you a base; wisdom is how you use it.

@PG_pmp: Knowledge is step one: making you aware of something. Wisdom is using that knowledge to judge or make decisions effectively.

@KrisGiere: In a very oversimplified definition, the former is knowing, while the latter is understanding. It's more nuanced than that, of course, and there are many more ways they differ and compliment each other too.

Q4. When have you noticed wisdom, or the lack of it, at work?

Many of you shared your stories of the disastrous consequences that a lack of wisdom can have in the workplace:

@ShereesePubHlth: When leaders, who have failed to evolve in thought, give out ill-informed advice.

@SanabriaJav: When people are eager to be right or flex their weight as a supervisor. On the other hand, the presence of wisdom is extremely helpful.

@GodaraAR: It's often sheer wisdom that untangles complex problems.

@JKatzaman: Those who have wisdom give others a long leash. A quick trigger shows lack of wisdom.

Q5. Why might there be a lack of wisdom in the workplace?

@MicheleDD_MT: The focus in many organizations is on getting results, increasing productivity, and gaining market share. Time is not taken to learn from experience – reflection is viewed as wasting time.

@carriemaslen: A positive culture at work begins with a people-first mentality: trust, accountability, investment, development; wisdom encouraged!

@dialbanese: Lack of wisdom = lack of people willing to learn from others and LISTEN!

Q6. What are the consequences of a lack of wisdom?

@KobusNeethInst: A lack of wisdom can lead to people taking the wrong action that results in more problems.

@TheCraigKaye: Similar to if we don't study history, we'll be destined to continue making the same mistakes!

Q7. What difference does a wise person make at work?

From the responses that we got, it's clear just how important wise people are at work:

@ShannonRenee: A wise person at work can counsel leadership on considering more than the bottom line, as well as help team members to find and use their voices.

@NWarind: Mostly leads a mob to civility.

@ChayneDaisy: An immense difference – someone to turn to when you need pragmatic and honest advice. We think of wisdom being people working at a senior level and that's not necessarily the case.

Q8. Where does wisdom come from and how can we get more of it?

@sittingpretty61: Wisdom comes from integration of life experience, personality, and accumulated knowledge, while possessing humility to make much of just a little.

@Yolande_MT: Wisdom comes from the ability to draw from different sources of knowledge and understanding, in any situation that calls for it. We get more by constantly being open to learning.

Q9. Who is the wisest person you know and what have you learned from him/her?

@hibbikay: @BillGates is to me. I may have not met him personally but I think investing in adding positive values to many and proving to be a worthy world leader (technically not politically) is something I admire.

@ZalkaB: I admire anyone who is a lifelong learner, who gets excited about learning new things AND sharing them with others. I often find myself looking back at what my (grand)parents taught me and see how it aligns with my path/learning.

Q10. In what situations would you like to apply more wisdom in your workplace, and how?

The last word in our chat went to:

@MikeBarzacchini: Always when dealing with conflict or misunderstanding. Sometimes in our haste to respond, we may miss an opportunity to listen a little more deeply and apply wisdom to the situation.

To read all of the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection for our chat here.

Coming Up

"Impostor Syndrome" is when you believe that you don't deserve your success. You feel that you're not as intelligent, creative or talented as other people think you are. We want to know if this is something that you've experienced, and how you experience this feeling of not "being enough." To cast your vote, click here.


In the meantime, here are some resources that will help you to find out more about creating a learning culture:

Mind Tools Club members can also access the full versions of the following articles:

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2 comments on “Wisdom at Work – #MTtalk Roundup”

  1. Wise people have usually learned not to take things personally. They realize that other people's worlds don't revolve around them and that people do things, make decisions or act in a certain way for their own reasons.

    1. Wise words if I have ever heard them! Acknowledging that people do things for their own reasons that may have nothing to do with you certainly helps me to detach and have more empathy.

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