My ITA colleague Jay (always a spark igniter) has been thinking about well-being in organizations, and it activated my thinking on wisdom. My interest in wisdom continues to ferment, slowly but surely, as a personal commitment. My question was what would business wisdom look like, and what would be the benefits?
One preliminary issue is definitional: when I google the term, I mostly see good business practices wrapped up and trumped as business wisdom. That’s not quite what I mean. We’ve seen examples of people doing things that were smart in the moment, but not very smart over time (*cough* Enron *cough*). Yes, there are some business principles that really do stand the test of time and could be considered business wisdom, but I’m thinking more about wise decisions, not wise principles. Other folks tend to treat wisdom as ineffable or only obvious in situ, you know it when you see it but you can’t analyze it. That doesn’t leave me much traction, so I focus on frameworks that give me some possibility for doing things differently.
So the definition I like for wisdom comes from Robert Sternberg, where he talks about making decisions that are not just smart in the short term, but in the long term. Decisions that consider not just me and mine, but society in general. And decisions that are based on values that are articulated and examined, not implicit and potentially less then optimal. I suggest that this sort of approach would lead to better decisions.
One of the things would be just to get people to start making decisions with this approach. If you accept the view that for situations where we’re experts, we can trust our gut, this means more to slow down when we’re making decisions out of our comfort zone. It’s harder work, to be very conscious in our decision making process, but I hope it’s implicitly obvious that making better decisions is the best solution.
And this segues into the broader topic of the organizational culture. I’m not immune to the view that there’s a certain personal attitude to wisdom. The wisest people I know are also the most unflappable, thoughtful and warm. And I think that’s hard to accomplish in an organization where everything you say can and will be held against you. You’ve got to have the appropriate culture for such an approach to flourish. Which ties to Jay’s interest in well-being, bring me full circle.
So, I think there’s an argument to be made for consider wisdom in business, as part of a longer term shift from short term returns to a sustainable differentiator. Coupled with appropriation of collaboration and cooperation, I suggest organizations can and should be working wiser and more coherently.