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Does Knowledge Have Any Value

Without Wisdom?

Dr. Bruce Lloyd is Professor of Strategic Management at London South Bank University.

By Bruce Lloyd

 

Over recent years there has been a vast amount of literature on the critical subject of knowledge management, but the word ‘wisdom’ is rarely mentioned.

There is also an increasing list of books cataloguing quotations of various kinds but these are rarely linked with the words ‘knowledge management.’

What is wisdom? It is useful to attempt to establish a precise definition but, in parallel, we need to explore how the word is used in practice. In essence, wisdom is knowledge with a long (if not timeless) shelf-life, while data is knowledge with an even shorter shelf-life than information.

It is, perhaps, even more important to turn the above pyramid on its head. Wisdom then becomes the framework within which we manage knowledge, and so on through the pyramid, ending with information being the framework within which we manage data. This is the basic case for wisdom being at the apex of knowledge management.

It is, of course, important to recognize that wisdom is one thing, being wise is another. Being wise is certainly a good deal more than just having the ability to recycle wisdom. A wise person has the ability, convincingly, to apply wisdom in practice.

If we explore some of the ways in which the word wisdom is used, this can provide additional insights. Do we agree with the comment of Count Oxenstierna (Swedish statesman, 1648), who said: “Dost thou not know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed?” A cause for pessimism or optimism?

Then Proverbs in The Bible states: “Wisdom is the principle thing; therefore get wisdom; and with all thy getting get understanding.”

Certainly there is probably much justification for: “Knowledge is a process of piling up facts; wisdom lies in their simplification.” Martin H. Fisher

And: “To know how to grow old is the masterwork of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living.” Henri Frederic Amiel

Some of the general quotations that have passed the test of time and so become elevated to what might be considered as wisdom, include:

  • Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell – Edward Abbey

  • It is easier to fight for one’s principles than to live up to them – Alfred Adler

  • Greatness lies not in being strong, but in the right use of strength – Henry Ward Beecher

  • Make ye the world a bit better or more beautiful because ye have lived in it – Francis Bacon

  • There is no limit to the good a person can do if they don’t care who gets the credit – Judson B. Branch

  • You must be the change you want to see in the world – Mahatma Gandhi

It is increasingly recognized that values and meaning are at the core of successful companies and these drivers are strongly influenced by and reflected in our acceptance of wisdom-driven beliefs.

In turn these factors influence our motivations and behaviors, which then provide the basis for the energy that ultimately determines the nature and intensity of our action.

If we can agree on what we mean by wisdom we can then ask: “How do we ensure that these ‘wisdom’ messages are learned more effectively?”

In that context, we need to explore the apparent paradox: “Why do we appear to be spending more and more time focused on learning knowledge that has a short shelf life, and less and less time on knowledge that overlaps with long shelf-life wisdom?”

Any effective knowledge management strategy both starts and ends with a solid foundation in wisdom. There is no better time than the beginning of a new millennium for us all to reflect on what we mean by wisdom and how this critical element in long-term corporate success can be passed on more effectively.

“Does Knowledge Have Any Value Without Wisdom?” was first published in Professional Manager Magazine.

Dr. Bruce Lloyd is Professor of Strategic Management at London South Bank University, London. Contact him at lloydba@lsbu.ac.uk.

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