Just occasionally, I like to emulate George Orwell and his 'As I Please' essays, and write a blog post that is just my thoughts on a subject without necessarily relating it to business. Although business creeps in, there isn’t always a direct tip for my readers. This week is one of those ...
I owe the choice of topic to three conversations I had over the last week. One was with a client who has started a new career as a coach following retirement and we were exploring what was special about us to have hit our 60's in relatively good shape and with an enthusiasm to continue to work. As elders of our respective business communities, are we right in thinking that with age comes wisdom?
The second conversation was with someone who changed their career to move away from a culture where at 50 he was considered too old to contribute and words of wisdom cultivated over the years were seen as living in the past.
The third sent me this email after asking my advice on an issue they had with someone else's behaviour. "Thank you for your sensible words of wisdom". My advice certainly came from my formal knowledge, but also from my experience.
So, that started me heading for a quick trawl around my bookshelf and then the internet for some quick quotes from a wide range of writers on this concept we call wisdom. Spoiler alert ... don't expect me to come to any grand conclusion.
I'll start with a definition because wisdom is one of those words we all know what it means without being able to completely put our finger on it precisely. That's usually a sign that it comes from our unconscious, no-language part of our brain and we turn to metaphors to describe it.
My favourite, which I've used before, is from Brian O'Driscoll. "Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad." This may have been said to win a silly bet, but that doesn't diminish its power to describe the concept.
Another example comes from real life and is described in Malcolm Gladwell's book 'Insights'. He tells the true-life story of forest firefighters in 1949 who got trapped on a hill with the fire racing up towards them and they knew that they could not outrun it.
Their leader, who was new to the group, had the insight to see that if they lit a fire in front of them it would also race up the hill, but leave them a patch of scorched earth with no fuel for the main fire to reach them. He and one other man chose this path and survived, but sadly the rest of the crew perished in the fire as they tried to outrun it. The wisdom came in a flash of inspiration built on the leader's past experiences and knowledge of how fires spread ... as well as a healthy dose of desperation.
Wisdom is the judgement and understanding and the ability to use your knowledge in a practical and productive manner that gets the right result. That last piece is important. It's doubtful if the leader of the firefighters would have been seen as wise if he had died in the fire!
Another thinker on the subject is Barry Schwartz, a psychologist well worth following, who makes the point in his Ted Talk on 'Practical Wisdom'. As he puts it, "The good news is you don't have to be brilliant to be wise. The bad news is that without wisdom, brilliance isn't enough. It is likely to get you and other people into trouble." I'm sure most of us can think of very clever ideas wrongly applied, especially without a moral compass to guide them, that ended in disaster.
Not from a textbook, but by experience: We're back to the unconscious no-language part of our learning by doing and watching other people doing too. It's how we learn what works and what doesn't. This is perhaps where the belief springs up about wisdom and age as you need time to have the experiences. We see both sides of the argument played out as another quote this time from Oscar Wilde comes to mind. "With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.".
So, you need some life under your belt, but not necessarily 50 plus years as we experience life from day one as one 6-year-old remarked, "Mummy, if we're not allowed to talk to strangers how can we make new friends?" This surely resonates with some of my fellow networkers as they enter yet another room full of strangers.
What about this one we all know? "You can't teach an old dog new tricks!" At first glance, I struggle with getting onboard with new technology, so that would support that view. Always worth looking around for a way of contradicting 'put down' statements like that. Whilst I may struggle with that 'new trick', my older sister whizzes around the internet using all the latest apps for both her work and pleasure like the professional she is.
Anyone who observes their fellow men and women will be struck by how often that isn't the case. We are creatures of habit and tend to make the same mistakes over and over again. So, 50-plus years of always doing the same thing and expecting a different result (Einstein this time) will not generate wisdom.
As a coach, a great deal of what we offer is an escape route out of that cycle to explore other possibilities. I believe the best gift coaching offers is that route to wisdom and I believe that experiencing coaching from both sides, coach and client, is the root of my colleague's comment about my wise words.
If I reached any conclusion at all in writing this it comes from Leah George also in a TED TALK where she debunks the belief that each generation has a different perspective!
To overcome all discrimination and prejudice we should take people as we find them. It is their uniqueness that comes from their own experience that we should value not put them in a box marked, in this example as, "Past your sell-by date."
I'll leave you with an African proverb to check in with you that I've lived up to my billing of having sensible words of wisdom. I do hope so: "A fool has to say something, a wise man has something to say".
If you'd like to learn more about referral marketing then do give me a call on 07970 638857 and let's have a chat and see how I can help you.