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We want others to see us as wise and knowledgeable people. We aspire to have students, colleagues, and other people in our lives look to us for information and advice. Being a source of knowledge and wisdom is a worthy personal and professional life goal.

While knowledge and wisdom are not the same, they are related in important ways. Knowledge involves the accumulation, possession, and sharing of useful information. Wisdom extends beyond knowledge to include implications, nuance, context, and meaning. Knowledge demonstrates what we know. Wisdom often exposes what we may miss or have yet to learn. Knowledge is often temporal and may even lose its value over time. Wisdom becomes even more valuable and sought after as time passes.

In our personal and professional lives, we also want to be around and learn from wise people. In times of complexity, uncertainty, and unpredictability, wisdom can be a precious commodity. The question is, “How can we become wise?”

We have been trained in knowledge-building processes and have honed our practice over time. However, we may have given less thought to how to build wisdom. The good news is that we do not necessarily have to develop a new set of skills. In fact, wisdom is more likely to come from thoughtfully and consistently practicing familiar strategies and behaviors than building a new skillset. Consider these seven strategies as places to start:

  • Practice deep listening. People often tell us much more than what they intend to convey in their words. What is not said may be as important as what is spoken, and what is repeated can signal what is most meaningful or concerning to the speaker. Notice nonverbal behaviors. When behavior and words are not aligned, there is more to explore and learn.
  • Be curious. Ask meaningful questions. Questions are among the most powerful tools for uncovering hidden meaning, overlooked elements, and unconsidered opportunities. Consider the “why” and “why not” of challenges, confusion, and conundrums. Nudge yourself and others to think beyond what “should be” to consider what “could be.”
  • Look for themes and patterns. When we step back and observe with distance, we can often see what is not visible up close. As we consider situations from other perspectives, we often discover what is driving the energy and motivation in the situation. Emerging themes and patterns can help us to develop insights to investigate and possibilities to pursue.
  • Find time to reflect. Reflection is one of the most effective ways to engage in sense-making, insight-building, intentional learning. It is said that wisdom is the product of reflective alchemy. Reflection helps us to interpret what we have experienced, place it in a context, and focus our learning.
  • Seek advice. Not all advice we receive is useful. However, having access to the perspectives of others gives us choices, allows us to evaluate alternatives, and presents opportunities for us to tap experiences beyond our own.
  • Be coached. The best coaches focus on helping us to become the best we can be. They ask questions that lead us to question and reconsider. They help us to test our assumptions and examine our mental models.
  • Find a mentor. Mentors play a slightly different role than coaches. Mentors are more likely to share their experiences and offer insights based on the lessons they have learned. Their contributions, like advice, offer alternatives to consider and can help us to avoid unnecessary mistakes and missteps, while providing underlying insights, understanding, and context for our consideration.   

Without question, knowledge and wisdom are important elements to pursue and develop. Knowledge gives us access to useful information. Wisdom tells us how to make sense of it. Or, as Jimi Hendrix puts it, “Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.”

Thought for the Week

When we understand another person’s perspective, what they are thinking and feeling, we are better able to relate to them and understand their needs.

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