Blogs

Why Wisdom Can’t Be Taught (2017)

Manfred Kets de Vries

"What makes wisdom more important than success and riches is that it enables us to live well"

What does it mean to be wise?

 

People often equate wisdom with intelligence or being knowledgeable; but all too often, it becomes apparent that being intelligent and being wise are quite different things. The world is full of brilliant people who intellectualise without really understanding the essence of things. In contrast, wise people try to grasp the deeper meaning of what is known and strive to better understand the limits of their knowledge.

 

Wisdom implies more than merely being able to process information in a logical way. Knowledge becomes wisdom when we have the ability to assimilate and apply this knowledge to make the right decisions. As the saying goes, ‘knowledge speaks but wisdom listens’.

 

Wise people are also humble; their humility deriving from a willingness to recognise the limitations of their knowledge. By accepting their ignorance, they are able to bear their own fallibility. They know when what they are doing makes sense, but also when it will not be good enough. Ironically, it is exactly this kind of self-knowledge that pushes them to do something about it.

 

What makes wisdom more important than success and riches is that it enables us to live well. Our mental and physical health flourishes when we are congruent with our beliefs and values. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

 

Age doesn’t make us wiser

 

So, how can we acquire wisdom? Becoming wise is a very personal quest, gained through our own experiences and learning how to cope with the major tragedies and dilemmas within life’s journey.

 

Setbacks are memorable growth experiences contributing to a deeper understanding of life. Overcoming difficult situations enable us to rise above our own perspectives and see things as they are and contributes to an increased appreciation of life and of new possibilities.

 

Unfortunately, wisdom is not something that automatically comes with the passing of years. While older people may have more experiences than their younger counterparts, many never put their life experiences to good use. To acquire the reflectivity needed may necessitate the help of others. Educators, coaches, psychotherapists and mentors can play a significant role, by assisting with the dissemination of knowledge and by helping those searching for wisdom work through challenging experiences and to work on emotional awareness, emotional self-regulation, relational skills and mindfulness.

 

Increasing wisdom and authenticity

 

In my own work with executives I have found that creating a learning community in which participants have the opportunity to tell their stories, not only has a cathartic effect but also helps wisdom come to bear. While written case studies can be helpful, life case studies narrated by participants have a much more dramatic, emotional impact. Telling and listening to personal stories is a starting point for a deeper understanding of oneself and others.

 

A learning community is also a great place to practice open-mindedness. Encouraging participants to step out of their comfort zone and to deal with people who are very different from themselves, leads to a deeper understanding and acceptance of the ambiguous nature of things. If designed in a holistic manner, these communities are a great exercise in humility, giving participants a better awareness of their limitations as well as a greater ability to integrate their knowledge and experiences when dealing with the challenges ahead.

 

In their pursuit of wisdom, group members will be encouraged to learn from their mistakes, to think before acting and, by taking off their masks, to become more authentic in living their values.

 

First published in INSEAD Knowledge, June 22, 2017. To read the full article, please follow this link: INSEAD Knowldege

INSEAD Knowledge, 2017

Read more

Add Comment

Article Comments

francisco silva jr

Nov 1, 3:30 PM

This article is a great truth. These days many people believe that wisdom is the same as knowledge and that this can be found in intenet, google or apps!

Go back


Related content

"Can forgiveness make us a better leader?"

The Art of Forgiveness

Published on 7 Jul, 2013

"How to manage brilliant but tumultuous leaders"

Managing Thrill Seekers

Thrill-seeking employees' addiction to risk can create havoc in the workplace. Managed correctly, their fearlessness can be a great advantage to any organisation.

Published on 7 Jul, 2016

"A lot of leadership skills are learned at home"

Leadership Begins at Home

Published on 27 Apr, 2012

"Forgiveness as a business tool"

Leaders Who Can't Forgive

This blog entry with the Harvard Business Review explores how costly it is to hold on to grudges and how an unforgiving attitude keeps people from moving forward.

Published on 4 Dec, 2013

"What does success in the C-suite look like?"

What Defines Success in the C-Suite?

Published on 24 Sep, 2010

"How to identify and manage star performers?"

Star Performers

Published on 3 Oct, 2012

"Looking at the emotional sides of leaders"

Putting Leaders on the Couch

Published on 26 Mar, 2008

“The most complete revenge is not to imitate the aggressor.”

The Bad Influence of Aggressive Bosses

Identifying with an aggressor is a basic strategy for human survival. It’s time to call it out in the workplace.

Published on 27 Sep, 2017

"Do less instead of doing too much"

The Case for Slacking Off

This blog entry with the Harvard Business Review argues that the biggest problem we have in contemporary society is not that we do too little but that we try to do too much.

Published on 10 Dec, 2013

"Down the rabbit hole of shame"

Don’t Let Shame Become a Self-Destructive Spiral

Shame is part of the human experience. Keeping your feelings of shame in perspective can relieve you of a harmful tendency to self-blame, and, eventually, make peace with your shadow side. Knowing that you are good enough, worthwhile, and deserving of love and acceptance is essential for building resilience and living your most authentic life.

Published on 1 Jun, 2017