The path to wisdom is paved with effectiveness, focus, humility and empathy

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”

― Confucius.

Wisdom features highly in the world of knowledge management. One of the biggest heresies it has produced, the erroneous DIKW pyramid (which I also questioned here and here), is putting wisdom at the pinnacle of a pyramidal meaning structure starting with data.

Seeking wisdom is like exploring Terra Incognita
Seeking wisdom is like exploring Terra Incognita

I want to find out what wisdom really might mean in (agile) KM. Much has been told about wisdom. Yet it is a very elusive definition.

My going in position? Wisdom is accumulated experience and expertise which allows us to activate our knowledge in a more effective way, both in terms of the intervention (the content of it) and of the process to bring it about (the process of that intervention). It is a reflection of an ingrained practice of triple loop learning which helps find a more appropriate response to a challenge we’re facing, an issue we’re grappling with or an idea we’re battling with.

In some ways, if we consider that in a field we accumulate some experience (some knowledge – as the sum of insights we have about that field), it looks as though we are exploring that field as if we were unraveling the map of that field, bit by bit, with some recognized borders and ‘unknown lands’. In the process, we are unraveling the complexity of all the interactions in that field – the horizontal connections between different items, actors and factors of that field as well as the vertical connections, the deeper understanding of the structure of things and how they work in and of themselves – and across, with adjacent fields.

Moving from unknown unknown to unconscious known... on the quest to wisdom?
Moving from unknown unknown to unconscious known… on the quest to wisdom?

As we explore that field, we progressively understand its arcane principles, its ‘buttons and levers’ which when activated produce the best results, the political economy of that field, the chain of consequences that might be set off by an initiative, or for lack of causal relations the bigger picture of that complex and fine mess. We also keep on making the ‘known unknown’ known and to turn the ‘unknown unknown’ as a ‘known unknown’ (see the graph).

This is perhaps where I think wisdom might be nested, or easier to perceive: wisdom gives us both a) shortcuts to relate to the greater over-arching principles, the sources of power and the ways to activate a field b) a finer perception of how difficult that is and what consequences are and perhaps more importantly c) another reality call to understand that really what we have to put up with is a whole lot more complex than we first thought it was and d) an appreciation of the inputs from others and interdependencies that matter in the field (we get more socially connected or at least warmer to others’ efforts).

Wisdom thus helps us get more effective, more thoughtful, more humble and more empathetic. And as Confucius says there are various ways to sharpen our wisdom. But in the end perhaps Socrates got down to the essence of it all:

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”
― Socrates.

As such, this teaches us that wisdom management is a complete aberration and that what matters is to carry on trying and reflecting. Learning has no end indeed.

Related blog posts:

And while at that, here’s a selection of supposedly wise quotes from supposedly wise men.


Published by Ewen Le Borgne

Collaboration and change process optimist motivated by ‘Fun, focus and feedback’. Nearly 20 years of experience in group facilitation and collaboration, learning and Knowledge Management, communication, innovation and change in development cooperation. Be the change you want to see, help others be their own version of the same.

Join the Conversation


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. Dear Ronita,
    Thank you for your comment. Indeed wisdom often emerges from sudden, unexpected moments of reflections or confrontations with reality. They are sometimes difficult to accept and that pride can block wisdom, but sometimes it is (thankfully) just overwhelming…

  2. So true! Wisdom comes in those eureka moments…moments of epiphany… that emerge suddenly. It could be the experience of a life time or even that of a single episode that another person manages to concretise and present consciously or unconsciously. And you realise how little you know!

%d bloggers like this: