Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Wisdom Manifesto - Umair Haque - Harvard Business Review

The Wisdom Manifesto - Umair Haque - Harvard Business Review

    The Wisdom Manifesto

Today's zombieconomy has been a long time coming. If 
you've been following our discussions, you saw it rising 
as early as 2006. The roots of this deep recession are 
about what zombies lack: consciousness, intelligence, 
and, at root, wisdom.

America, it was once said, is the richest country in the 
world. And though Wall St, Washington, and Europe 
are focused on exploding deficits and rising debt
both are effects of a deeper cause. We're poor in the 
single way that counts the most: In terms of institu-
tional capital, we're bankrupt. It is institutions that 
allocate and create mere financial capital — and 
without better ones, we're learning, prosperity must 

There's a simpler way to express institutional capital. 
It's about wisdom. It is because we've beggared our-
selves of wisdom that we're bereft of cash, jobs, and 
meaning.  The scarcest, rarest, and most valuable 
resource in the world today is wisdom. The coun-
tries, companies, and people that possess it will pros-
per. In many ways, wisdom is the opposite of strategy 
— and today, it is strategy, bought by the dozen from 
legions of besuited, back-slapping consultants, that is 
cheap, abundant, and worth little.

How large is the economic gap between wisdom and 
strategy? It begins in the billions. JPMorgan wasn't wise, 
and now it has to set aside $3 billion in "model-
uncertainty reserves." Toyota wasn't wise — and the 
price of that lack of wisdom is already $10 billion and 
rising. Think wisdom's warm-and-fuzzy? 

Think again. It's as hard-as-nails, and as sharp as a razor.

Here's a nine step plan to go beyond mere strategy and 
begin bringing a little wisdom into your own organization.

Express. Most organizations have values — vague, boring, 
meaningless statements about what's important to...them. 
Values, of course, are the basis of strategy. That kind of 
megalomaniacal egoecontricity's so 20th century. Wisdom 
isn't about what you "value" — it's about how everyone values 
you. To get wise, articulate your essence: the change you 
want to see in the world. That means literally crafting a 
statement of intent about "the world", like Google: "to 
organize the world's information and make it universally 

Energize. Wisdom doesn't happen by hanging out in the 
VIP section and sipping Grey Goose — though the deal-
making of strategy often does. It happens by understanding 
the who, why, what, and how of suffering. Do you, or does 
your organization spend any time with those who are made 
worse off by what you do? Almost none do. But that's the 
only source of the most explosive kind of horsepower — 
not just physical or intellectual energy, but emotional 
and ethical energy.

Channel. Once you're energized, it's time to channel 
your energy most productively. How wide is the gap 
between the change you want — and the change that 
is? Most people, like most organizations, focus on 
living up to a "best practice", or living to the expecta-
tions of beancounterly analysts or warmongering chief-
tains. Forget it. Wisdom is measured against a higher 
standard than mere strategy: the one set by what people, 
communities, and society lack. If your organization 
doesn't have them yet, start building them.

Ignite. Strategy is carried out militaristically, by doling 
out formulaic tasks to be completed. Wisdom, in 
contrast, requires space for experimentation and play — 
for people to find new ways to change the world. 
Google's 20% time is going the way of dinosaur — 
and so, unfortunately, is its wisdom. If you don't get 
time at work to ignite wise ideas, ask for some, or 
better yet: take some.

Evoke. Strategy is the application of force. Wisdom 
is the application of love. Strategy suppresses, but 
Wisdom evokes. Its test is the ability to spark new 
ideas, concepts, and solutions. That is how to be 
valued by people, communities, and society — and 
it's what Starbucks is learning at mystarbucksidea
The lesson? Stop working and start evoking.

Examine. Apple won't be defeated the day Microsoft 
makes an Applier phone. It will be defeated the day 
Apple makes a more Microsoftian gadget. The rule? 
Strategy's battle is defeating a rival, by any means 
necessary. But Wisdom's battle is the real one: never 
to compromise your essence, the way you want to 
change the world. Wise organizations — like wise 
people — spend time every day examining whether 
the rot of compromise has led, unintentionally, to 

Raise. Strategy is concerned with the low: profit, 
here and now, by any means necessary allowed 
within the rules of the game. Wisdom, in contrast, 
is about what's higher. Can you hold yourself up to 
a higher standard than the bare minimum rule-makers 
ask for — and by doing so, create morevalue? That's 
the difference between Wall St's "regulatory arbitrage" 
real-world question Wisdom asks to ask ourselves 
every day to reset and continually raise the bar.

Be. Strategy is about doing; wisdom is about being. 
Strategy asks us to seek examples of people or 
organizations who are "doing things right" — and 
do what they did. The result? At best, a lack of 
improvement, and at worst, a vicious downward spiral 
in standards, quality, and value creation. Stop look-
ing for examples. Set an example. One that, like 
Threadless, the world hasn't seen before — because 
no one's had, well, the wisdom.

Renew. Strategies are as disposable as a cheap 
plastic razor. But wisdom is eternal. And that means 
that it's a ceaseless quest for learning. Here's the 
measure of a wisely spent day: one where you learned 
five new things. At the end of the day, can you articulate 
them? If you can't, odds are you're not acting wisely. 
Wise organizations institutionalize everyone's daily 
learning, and a simple path to wisdom is to be the 
person in your organization that brings the Rule of 
Fives to life.

Are you wise — or merely clever, smart, and cunning? 
If it's the latter, prepare to be hit by a neutron blast of 
disruption. The 21st century isn't just about bigger and 
faster: Strategy is obsolete. It's time to wise up.

Wisdom is a Jupiter-sized topic. The principles above 
are far from the only ones, the best ones, or the "right" 
ones. So fire away in the comments with your own 
principles, reflections, or further examples.

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