Wisdom is a business worth billions of dollars a year. Many companies, individuals, and social organizations claim to understand it enough to teach it – but few of them bother building the business case for wisdom.  Why?

Fundamentally, it is because the very notion of wisdom is difficult to understand. What is it, really?

Wisdom in a Nutshell

When I was young, upon coming to a door that was stuck closed, I would attempt brute force to open it. After a few minutes of thrashing and pulling and sweat inducing effort I would give up on that method. Then I would analyze the door and see if I could understand where and how it was stuck. Only after trying to understand the problem could I then devise an approach to open it. Thirty seconds of looking at the problem and 2 seconds of finesse resulted in an open door.

Wisdom is a form of knowledge – but processed in a special way. Wisdom is the applied understanding that comes from knowledge. When looking for wisdom in an employee they call it: experience, insight, expertise, savvy, or know-how.

The definition provided above explains the key problem with businesses and institutions that focus on providing wisdom. Such businesses like self-help publications and seminars; and social constructs like religious institutions; can’t directly teach wisdom. They can only teach around it, because wisdom emerges from the experience of an individual.

The benefit of wisdom is in the outcomes it creates. Wisdom cultivates enduring, positive outcome generating environments. Beyond the single result – when applied, wisdom lays the foundation for more results, or paves the way for more wisdom. An added benefit of wisdom is that it often provides business value along more traditional dimensions like: quality, speed, or cost.

A wisdom based approach to problem solving, for example, looks for “everybody wins” scenarios. A wisdom based approach to patient care is comprehensive. A wisdom based approach to sales focuses on relationships. Each of these approaches build better outcomes than “me first”, “symptom management”, “close the sale” approaches.

There are a few ways to acquire wisdom in a more direct fashion. First, cultivate relationships with those who provide honest and meaningful feedback on your behavior. Second, put yourself in situations that you have not experienced before. Third, cultivate mindfulness. While these aren’t the only ways, they are the clearest path to acquiring wisdom.

However you may acquire it, it is clear that wisdom is a good investment.