Matters Column

Transforming knowledge into building blocks of wisdom

November 22, 2013
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Wisdom results from our application of knowledge, from using what we know to change (or intentionally stabilize) a situation, alter the life of another, or accomplish something that had not yet been considered. 

Simply knowing many facts and answers to hard questions may make us smart, but unless and until we apply the facts we have learned to change a situation or circumstance we have never encountered, we will never become “wise.”  

Today’s world is afloat with facts, data and information, yet it often seems that problem-solving skills are slipping through our hands like a melting ice cube. 

We sometimes have difficulty trying to apply our wealth of knowledge to unrelated circumstances within our daily lives. We run before we walk as our impatience rules the day. We pursue the impossible — or at least the improbable — rather than finding comfort in the reality of “what is” and extrapolating it into that which has not yet become, far too often leaping ahead without thought or direction.  

Knowing what to do and doing what is right within a given set of circumstances is not always the same thing (situational ethics?). While knowledge may supply the building blocks of wisdom, it does not shine as a light in the darkness until it is appropriately applied.

Impatience and intolerance have become the driving factors in “effective” communication, with the analysis of data and deliberate actions due to those findings simply afterthoughts in the creation of reality. Integrity was once an integral part of an individual’s make-up. It now seems to be an insignificant backdrop to life’s everyday drama. Relationships once rooted in honesty now seem built upon circumstance fed by individual desires. 

It seems that the application of information to create a viable solution — taking the risk required to make a difference by being different — is less about “doing things right” and more about “just doing it.” 

Knowing what to do because we have learned facts or seen similar situations in the past is a good start to transforming our knowledge into wisdom. To demonstrate our wisdom we must be credible: We must say what we are going to do, do what we say, and demonstrate to others that we are predictable, consistent and fair in our actions. In order to be credible, we must recognize and consistently honor the values, likes, dislikes and preferences of others.

It is nearly impossible to move in the wrong direction when we don’t care where we are going. Little credit, however, can be taken, or praise given, for unanticipated results generated through unplanned activities. 

In order to transform knowledge into wisdom and make decisions count, we must anticipate our destination before moving from one situation to another. We must plan where we want to land before leaping, or we will find ourselves moving from the frying pan to the fire. Success hinges upon the creation and attainment of targets so we can recognize and acknowledge that our actions or intentional inactions are leading toward a definitive conclusion. 

Many great innovations were a direct result of an initial failure. Had someone not allowed their mind to wander, however, and fed their curiosity — had they not transformed their knowledge into wisdom while investigating previously unknown and unconsidered possibilities — today’s world would be a vastly different place.

We must study and learn before charging forward or our rush may become an appointment with disaster. We are able to leverage our knowledge to make wise decisions rather than blindly following the thoughts of others when we analyze the information around us and apply it to our circumstances. 

When we look ahead to avoid the obstacles in our path rather than behind at what has already been accomplished, we are able to sail toward what might become reality rather than anchoring ourselves within safe harbors of the past that discourage change.  

Planned, intentional actions initiate change, and once we are able to demonstrate our ability to orchestrate the transition from “here and now” to “where we have not yet imagined.” we will be wise beyond our expectations and experience more success than we dreamed possible.

David J. Smith is president and CEO of The Employers’ Association in Grand Rapids.

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