Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

8 February 2006

Learning Wisdom

Clark @ 11:15 AM

The old canard about data->information->knowledge->intelligence->wisdom resonates with me. Don Norman wrote a book called ‘Things That Make Us Smart’, and it was great at taking a richly informed look at how we can enhance how we think with tools. But I think we’re being way too smart and not being wise, the missing element being values.

It was Lance Secretan, talking about inspiring, not just motivating, that got me on this path. I’ve had trouble articulating what it is I do, but the closest I had come was ‘making people smarter’. I like what I do, but it’s not a vision, a mission, so I took it the next step, ‘making people wiser’. This is actually the culmination of a number of converging interests.

My interest in helping people learn led me beyond cognitive to the emotional side of learning, which impacts my interest in games, including myth and ritual as effective tools to align behavior with a set of values. I’ve also started exploring attitudinal change, and how that can be accomplished. Which is why I liked a quote Jay took from Malcolm Gladwell about how values give us criteria to make decisions. When I heard Dennis Meadows talk about systems-thinking, it’s clear our vision is not far enough ahead.

All these elements, but it’s hard to nail down how they pull together, what exactly wisdom is, except for manifesting itself as decisions that are, well, wise. It seems like pornography, “you know it when you see it”. Which of course isn’t good enough for me. So I looked further…

Robert Sternberg has a model of wisdom that talks about evaluating the consequences for the individual, for the community, and the broader society (for which I read: world). It also includes both short- and long-term effects, and in the context of a set of values. Which isn’t bad, if a wee bit obvious. He actually has an article recommending teaching wisdom in schools, and it’s not the worst proposal I’ve heard.

At core, I think a greater focus on value-driven decisions, wise decisions, is a missing element for business success, but since my personal mission is to use technology, I’m convincing myself that we might actually be able to help people make wiser decisions through technology. For instance, LifeBalance is one piece of software that helps you maintain your long-term priorities day-to-day, and I’ve a model for technology mentoring over time that could be developed.

The larger picture is relevant, however. In a talk I gave in Abu Dhabi, I talked about the need for new curricula (e.g. systems-thinking, design problem-solving, meta-learning, communication, values), new pedagogies (e.g. service learning, simulations), and new technology applications. I think that the need for wisdom grows, and currently our grasp exceeds our reach. The problems are organizational and social, not theory or technical. Any ideas how to step up to the challenge?


  1. Very wise, Clark. I was glad to see the word “social” appear at the end of your post because it was what kept popping into my mind as I read. Because so much of the time, emotion comes from social situations. Or, rather, social situations often create some sort of an emotional response.

    My colleagues and I have been talking about the need for new models, which I think aligns with your call for new pedagogies. As far as stepping up to the challenge… I think we need to look outside of our field for inspiration. For example, what’s happening in the world of marketing that we learning-geeks can apply? What are examples of online communities that are working (e.g., MySpace) and how can we apply what works to the learning we’re creating?

    Thanks for the challenge and putting this conversation out there!

    Comment by Gretchen Hartke — 8 February 2006 @ 1:28 PM

  2. I am not an expert in technology, but I’ve been scrutinizing wisdom for a long time–even writing my doctoral dissertation on the topic. I’ve been interviewing people all over the country who have been nominated by someone who knows them and thinks they are wise. I see wisdom in the actions these people take that somehow serve a greater good. The new breed of entrepreneurs who are doing well and doing good can also offer models that we can learn from. Wisdom definitely is about giving back in some way and transforming loss and adversity in growth. Thanks for offering this opportunity for the conversation. My website is http://www.wisdomout.

    Comment by Elle Allison — 14 May 2007 @ 7:48 PM

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