Wisdom and Knowledge, Which Should You Aim For?

By Sofie Sandell, Huffpost Lifestyle, United Kingdom

Last week I was discussing wisdom and knowledge and which you should aim for with Filipe Carrera and Peter Milligan in a Google Hangout which we broadcast live online.

I found the topic extra appealing since my name, Sofie, means wisdom. I love it when people tell me that my name means wisdom, something that happened a few times every day when I was in Greece last year.

Wisdom is a trait we love to praise and it's a fascinating subject. One of the big questions is whether you can teach wisdom. It is clear that you can teach and share knowledge, but wisdom?

Knowledge is the information, skills and understanding that people obtain through education, training, work and other activities. To be seen as knowledgeable about a certain topic gives you high status in most societies in the world.

Wisdom is much deeper than knowledge and involves making sensible decisions and giving good advice drawing on your life experiences and knowledge.

I have a good friend who spent many years sharing her wisdom with others but she was not very wise when it came to herself. I remember this so well because she had to release herself, from her own emotional confusion, to be wise in her own life. I think this is pretty common among emotional human beings.

Can you be wise if you are making decisions that are only good for yourself and only work in the short term? Most likely not. Choices based on wisdom involve both yourself and the people around you and are beneficial in the long term.

In the Hangout session, Filipe, Peter and I talked about Volkswagen and the huge lack of wisdom their organisation has shown in the emissions scandal. They must have been suffering from group thinking and been stuck in a counter-productive power structure to allow this situation to arise. The common brain in the organisation had thorough knowledge about how to build a car and how emissions software systems work but, as we all now know, wisdom was not involved.

The biggest threat to developing wisdom is thinking you know it all. Wisdom is directly connected to staying humble and having an open spirit. There are so many things we don't have a clue about.

In some organisations the development of knowledge and wisdom is seen as important and you are rewarded by others when you learn and develop your thinking. In other places intellectual skills are not praised and if someone points out that something is wrong they become an outcast. Common wisdom is not developed in these organisations.

To develop wisdom you must 'think outside the box' and see the bigger picture of the problem you are facing. Wisdom contains a wish for deeper understanding and a curiosity for learning. This might sound a bit hippy-dippy, but wisdom is connected to something that's bigger than the human mind. Wisdom has a place in all spiritual practice and can feel abstract since it's hard to describe.

I remember overhearing a conversation between two young women when I was a student in Lund, Sweden. They were talking about a person they did group work with and one of them said: 'But he is over 40, he must know how to fix this problem.' I can't remember the details of the problem, but I do recall the claim that someone who is a bit older should have gained more wisdom.

Wisdom doesn't necessarily come with age. I recently listened to an interview on Swedish radio station P1 with Ursula M. Staudinger, who's been developing a method to measure wisdom, and she said that there are no guarantees that age makes you wiser, you have to work hard to become and stay wise. If you are not open-minded about life and are not curious about new opportunities you can fall into the trap of limiting your thinking in a strict and rigorous way.

Staying humble, open-minded and curious are three ingredients you need to gain and sustain wisdom. And to answer the question whether you should aim for knowledge or wisdom I think both.

If you would like to watch the Google Hangout episode mentioned in this blog you can check it out on YouTube. Our next Hangout is 26th November and we will discuss what is real work is and if the work we do today makes sense. More information will be added on my website soon and you can sign up to my Digital Leadership Inspiration newsletter here.

Read the article: Sandell, S. (2015). Wisdom and Knowledge, Which Should You Aim For? Huffpost Lifestyle, United Kingdom

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