Humanising Wisdom | An Exploratory Presentation

Introducing a new idea.

This is raw. Thoughts in flux. A developing concept and a growing passion:

Humanising Wisdom is an attempt to explore / activate / apply the latent wisdom in organisations, brands and individuals.

Presented at The 16th International Conference on Thinking yesterday.


Would love to hear your thoughts on this. What does ‘humanising wisdom’ mean to you? Do I make sense? What didn’t work? What did? Hit me up in the comments…

YouTube video version


  1. Dude, just sat and listened all the way through! As always, a great presentation. There’s so much food for thought and so much I’m going to Google and share!

    My brain is currently fried when I think about ‘how’ I incorporate this in to my work which by tradition is 1. public sector (slow moving, slow changing, red taped) and 2. Project Management (systems, structures). The main thing I already incorporate is the customer, what do they want, need and how do they expect it. need-requirement-delivery kind of thing.

    Getting people to play (or prototype as we call it in some examples when dealing with authority leaders) is priceless and, I think, the only concrete way of influencing change that sticks.

    Mate, as always, mind-bendingly good. Keep it up, you’re a legend!

    1. Thank you Matt for taking the time to first watch then comment.

      Appreciate the kind words and insights – glad to hear there’s lots of digital breadcrumbs to follow there and hope I didn’t waste too much of your day ;-)

      The application of above is something that’s still in development: to first create a set of tools or a model to tease out the ‘right’ questions then move into ideation phase whilst considering the actionable outcomes is a BIG challenge for all organisations, institutions, charities, businesses etc – there are many existing frameworks like design thinking or six hats but it goes further than that for me…

      As you can tell, this is still raw and forming so forgive me if I can’t provide answers as enjoying chewing on this delicious idea at the moment and hopefully in the future as my focus shifts more in this direction.

  2. Hey

    Just watched your presentation. Awesome. Lots of cool ideas in there that got me thinking.

    So true that fear stops us. I liked how you said ‘We don’t need permission.’ We are so caught up in a following the norm that we don’t allows ourselves to try new ways to get to ‘B’. The goal is always to get kids from A to B, but we are stuck in a pattern of following what has always been done.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Wonderful to have your contribution here Pascal – appreciate you watching and applying the ideas. Don’t know if it helps but it’s not an issue specific to education I’m afraid. Hence the desire to explore further :-)

  3. It’s a good direction one that definitely intrigues me.
    I love the way in which, to me, your presentation seems like a natural growth, pulling in from previous experience in social media and such like to bring together ideas that not only stimulate but challenge, like the concept of ‘play’ in the workplace in order to learn as adults etc.
    PS … I just shared this through my works Twitter @redquadrant in case you’re wondering who it was :-)

  4. Hey DK,

    First, thanks for posting such a though provoking piece! I have spent all day battling various tech issues to watch it. And the concepts have been swirling around in my head.

    I like the way the words link into stories and make strong visual connections which then link into my personal experiences. The notes below that presentation are a great reminder of those stories!

    I wanted to share my impressions and the ideas that connected with your stories. The first was that wisdom is a question. Our school went through a process asking our community (and ourselves) what we were about last year. We came up with a bunch of ideas, pared it down to five main ones and started researching how other people come up with things that explored the concepts that we all thought most important. So then it would seem to me one of our sector’s main questions would be, what questions do our community think are important?

    Then with regards to power- in my class, the children have to decide what we need to learn. They have to be responsible for their learning, choose the timetable and what we’re going to learn, and so on. And in our school leadership, we are learning about ‘quiet leadership’, about the difference between dialogue and discussion. So it’s about coaching. That’s what clicked for me with those ideas. People say knowledge is power, but I guess really knowledge is a responsibility and wisdom is the privilege that may come with it. So if knowledge is the cake, wisdom is the icing, then power is like the sprinkles on the icing. Everyone likes sprinkles but they fall off without icing. That’s what I got out of that. Mind you, it’s taken all day to get here so I might have to watch that again! Plus I do admit I might like sprinkles better than gnawing through cake. Scrap that illustration then!! But the idea that we often do things just because really touches a nerve with education. Why do we have to do that test when it isn’t aligned? Why is the parent talking to the teacher when the child should talk about their learning themselves?

    Culture reminded me of Google immediately. They scientifically try to evaluate the best way to keep their employees happy! So checking what makes us, and our students happy, makes perfect sense to me and in fact that was what we wanted for our success as a school- to ensure our students were happy, confident citizens of the world. I find it ironic that so often people say not to bring your personal life into your job when who you are as a person are in the job, but that’s me flying off on a tangent. In education I have the luxury of letting other people learn from my mistakes.

    Fear links me into that diagram about the pit of learning http://sustainedsuccess.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/challengelearning.jpg is one version of it. We use a version of it in class where we talk about how learning is actually making mistakes a lot of the time and often the kids point to the pit to show just where they are, (I am generally in the pit with trying to facilitate half the stuff we do by way of example) so it’s a way of allowing ourselves to fail. I read a lifehacker post earlier about failure so it was funny to see you linking into that site too.

    I also relate to the desire path, In my organisation, my class isn’t supposed to bring in their ipod touches or an ipad and an acer tablet, or set up a class facebook page and twitter. But when I do that, our learning and action connects to wider learning and knowledge and wisdom. And when I plan for that, I plan for adaptation, because I can only see the end goal, and it all flies off in different directions! The different process, same goal works for me toward the end of the year when we’ve all played with different tools but I wonder if perhaps I might just use if from the beginning instead.

    So I guess after all that, I really connected with this message. I just hadn’t thought about using the term ‘wisdom’ creatively to solve the big questions or figure out what they were. Real food for thought! I can’t wait to see what you come up with next. I, meanwhile, am going to go read up some more on some of those ideas. I’m grateful for the inspiration at the start of the year! I think you connected the dots between a range of ideas out there and I think this is highly influential.

    1. What a fantabulous comment – deep gratitude for taking the time to craft and share let alone stick with the presentation after all those challenges.

      Humbled that it spoke to you in the way you describe – it has given a mammoth amount of positive validation to explore this subject further.

      Appreciate you sharing personal stories with juicy questions / statements / links, let me comment on just a couple of them:

      – agreed, getting all stakeholders involved in defining your purpose is great, however, people don’t know what they don’t know. Therefore, it’s always important to have an influence from outside to add in new flavours and ideas that the mainstream wouldn’t consider.
      – alignment is so important and what a deliciously deep word. Layering in knowledge, wisdom and action (which is my preferred ‘sprinkled’) makes it a tempting ‘cake’ which just needs the right context ;-)
      – the pit is a nice model but I prefer to invert it so that it’s a hill to climb and you’re rewarded by getting to the top with both the promise of an easier ride down, the satisfaction of achieving the peek plus the amazing view (actually I have a draft blog post about that which I’m going to have to revisit and post soon)
      – “planning for adaption” (wonderful!)

      Finally, thanks for The Art of Applying Wisdom blog post reference as well – will head over and leave a comment in the next day or so as well :-)

      Please do keep in touch and let me know how you get on in your wisdom seeking adventures!

  5. What does Humanising Wisdom mean to me?..in my organisation, a school?
    My ‘thoughts in flux’, as you put it, suggest that humanising wisdom is something about
    creating a culture that aligns mindful thought with meaningful action.
    I’m not going to try to unpack (eg the word mindful) or rework (eg action could be directed or purposeful instead of meaningful, and instead of ‘aligns mindful thought with action’ we could say ‘encourages thought FOR action?) any further. Nor test that it makes sense, but rather hope the comment may be considered :) and perhaps even useful :p.

    1. Natasha – great definition / contribution to the debate. Definitely useful and sparking some further stuff in my brain – thank you!

  6. The distinction between knowledge and wisdom is (in my view) a critical one. This has got me thinking about how (if at all) we talk to our children and each other about what we know and how we use what we know.
    Knowing and discussing the difference could give rise to a shift in thinking that moves us into a more reflective space to become better thinkers.

    “Knowledge in silos needs to be shared to transform into wisdom” This is powerful thought. Creating a culture with a shared vision and alignment in beliefs and values is worthy quest. A space where all stakeholders collaborate and turn knowledge into wisdom opens up a world of possibilities.

    I am not sure I agree with your statement about people who we think have wisdom are the ones who have done a lot.
    Wisdom has intrinsic value that goes beyond the ends. Much of the joy is in the process of attaining wisdom: the questioning, reflecting engaging dialogue, creating, collaborating, discovering, inquiring and transforming.
    I would hate wisdom to be measured by how much you have done (I know this is not what you are saying or mean, but hope you can sort of see my point)

    Many of your points about delight, failure and success weave nicely into the many insights gleaned from ICOT. Your point about park designers surprised me (love that) and I am left thinking how that thought processes would look for a school board and teachers – (more observation is probably a good start)!

    I love the idea of letting children define our success (what would we be doing as a school differently if our children defined our success and not the government – one to incubate)!

    I think if we want closed loops, then we need to create a culture where people/children feel safe to question, provoke, make mistakes, share ideas, and to be different (truly, not just lip service to the idea). Maybe a deep sense of trust is one of the ingredients we need to cultivate…

    I would love to have been in on the discussion of the question you posed: What are the big questions in your organization, which could identify and activate wisdom? Transformation of knowledge to wisdom in action right there!

    How, when, why and what do we talk to each other about?
    Who holds the power/knowledge in our school?
    Are we acting implicitly or explicitly?
    Are we putting out fires or creating the future?
    What goods are being promoted by our actions?
    What are our values, beliefs, what are willing to give up what won’t we give up?

    Not sure if is this is along the lines of what you meant, it is hard to comment without context. #kickingmyselffornotgoing
    All the best to you and keep up the good work.

    1. Great to have your offering Paula – thank you.

      So many great points / challenges – will just jump on a couple but just to add, really enjoyed reading your take on the themes discussed and welcome your challenges – much of the talk is still a work in progress and will happily admit that some doesn’t quite fit at times.

      I like that quote (you featured) also – something to build on / out of / into etc – thanks for championing the idea and for highlighting it :-)

      You reference reflecting more on the difference between knowledge and wisdom – *nods* – there’s also space here to use action as a model of finding ‘truths’ as well.

      Have to give a deep waist bow and go another way, I actually delight in the idea of measuring wisdom. What a wonderful idea that would be, some kind of scale to offer a guide (as all scales are that, an indication of potential rather than a hard and fast stipulation of fact). Something to drive discussion, the validate effort, to reward attempts etc

      And finally, LOVE those questions your posed at the end – each one an essay unto themselves waiting to be forged. Have you thought about sharing this internally? Would love to know the response…

  7. Dude, I have just watched this before leaving for a training day in Nottingham to work with some students. Going to use some elements of this and then comment in earnest when I come back later. Love it, love it, love it.

  8. Thank you for your response; I will let you know what comes of those questions.

    Your idea around measuring wisdom has me immensely intrigued. In my head I had measure as more a blunt instrument – you have attained or you have not attained, or you have not done much so that means you have not transformed knowledge into wisdom etc..(Forgive me if you had fleshed that out and I just missed it in the talk)!

    “Something to drive discussion, the validate effort, to reward attempts etc” This is a lovely vision and in itself would cultivate collective wisdom I think. The idea of a scale as a guide is nice, but what would this scale look like? If wisdom is an ever-evolving question, then a static scale won’t quite get the work done. If wisdom comes from sharing knowledge, then does the scale need a shared language of beliefs and values imbedded in it? (de Bono’s emotion code jumps out at me, but I am not so sure about that – conversation with no emotion, hmmm)
    Or is it more like check points of common features found in wisdom?

    I don’t think the ideas of wisdom having intrinsic worth and being measured are mutually exclusive. Aristotle talks about wisdom as being a vital ingredient in ones ability to flourish; imagine a world where all its citizens were flourishing members of society. Creating, contributing, sharing…Interestingly the criticism of his work is that wisdom takes many years to develop and many never attain such a state.

    Looking at it from your side of the fence, I suppose wisdom having intrinsic worth is all well and good but gets us nowhere in terms of cultivating wisdom.

    I wonder if the scale and the guide/feedforward could be one in the same. So you have what wisdom looks like in all its guises/stages and what actions you would be taking to cultivate wisdom (what acts of wisdom look like and what they don’t look like). It could be organic too, with constant iterations from the collective wisdom feeding into it.

    Here is one that ‘someone else’ prepared earlier:

    What a neat challenge, I hope someone or my ramblings spark something to help you along the way :-)

    1. Appreciate the come back – glad you liked the ‘sliding scale’ approach. Again, got ideas about what it could look like (venn diagram, quadrant scale etc) but am sure others have done some work for me to riff off (although most of the stuff I’m finding is highly academic and hindered by educational discourse – the whole point of this is to make it accessible and attainable (ergo human)).

      Appreciate the mention of ‘action’ and ‘organic’ in there – fundamental tenets for me moving forward on this.

      Your ‘ramblings’ have helped and thanks again – onwards :-)

  9. Another fantastic presentation. “wisdom” is right!

    Keeping it concise, something that may frame some of these thoughts, “Culture makes the necessary seem obligatory.” One of my undergrad advisers told me that years ago and it’s never left my head. In cultural calculus that’s a solid theorem. My corollary is, “Culture often has significant inertia but it’s direction can be changed.” That’s culture hacking and similar to the physics it mirrors, the “energy” needed to overcome cultural inertia is proportional to the “cultural mass and energy” presently sustaining it’s current direction. People, events, clever memes, the whole gamut of cultural tools can be used like levers and inclined planes. The difficult part is that culture is often murky and we often use a tool thinking it’s one thing rather than another. I think of things like marketing as long levers in the culture hacking tool set, the more resources in the “tool” the longer the lever but there are usually far more elegant and less destructive ways of doing things than getting a longer lever or a bigger hammer. That’s where you come in!

    Bravo and way to keep living the questions.

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