I’m just going to set off on this one and see where I end up.
Where to start? Google, of course.
Wikipedia. Wisdom is ‘the ability to think or act using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense and insight’. Sounds good.
But then Psychology Today. They think wisdom is hard to define but people generally recognize it when they encounter it. Adding it’s partly about understanding the uncertainties of life, as well as its ups and downs.
They also say intelligence isn’t enough for wisdom. It takes an ability to see the big picture, a sense of proportion and balance.
So knowledge is one thing, wisdom another. In fact, if it’s something to do with understanding uncertainties, maybe it’s about not knowing.
That sounds familiar.
Here we go. Confucius: “True wisdom is knowing what you don’t know”.
Even better, Socrates: “I know one thing: that I know nothing.” And he adds: “All wisdom begins with wondering”.
So is the route to Wisdom curiosity?
Where has mine taken me lately?
Michael Lewis’s new book, ‘The Undoing Project’, about Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. In it he refers to Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets, who started off his career as a consultant.
There he learnt that “a big part of a consultant’s job was to feign total certainty about uncertain things”. It taught him confidence was often “fraudulent”. Good word.
Or exploring the whole question of how advertising works. A recent article that pushed me to Paul Feldwick’s book, ‘The Anatomy of Humbug’. He argues advertising can work in at least six different ways: Salesmanship, Seduction, Salience, Social Connection, Spin and Showbiz.
There’s a real head of steam at the moment behind the Salience explanation. But as Feldwick concludes, there’s always been a problem with this approach - no one really wants to follow it, neither clients nor agencies. Why not? Because it doesn’t make anyone look particularly clever.
So true, isn’t it? Certain people in certain situations certainly want to look clever. They want to feel knowledgeable. Discernment.
But do people want to look or feel wise? Is it really a need? Or is it something some people just are? Like, don’t tell me you’re a comedian, tell me a joke.
Well, to tell a joke you have to write a joke. How do you do that?
Tim Vine says he often works backwards. “I hear punchlines in everyday conversation and think, ‘How could we get there in a different way?’ If someone says, ‘Serves him right,’ I’ll think, ‘Right, OK… A friend of mine’s got a left arm missing. Serves him right.’ ”
How to get there in a different way? If that’s the answer, what’s the question?
What I’m really looking for is an insight. Not so much what Wisdom is, but what gets in its way.
Maybe knowledge is the obstacle. The accepted wisdom.
Or maybe the problem is wanting to look smart. Does Wisdom care?
And I bet confidence can be a real roadblock. Wisdom is humbler than that.
I think I’m going to keep on looking.