Information Is Not Wisdom
Kathleen Kelley Reardon is Professor Emerita of Management at University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.
She earned her Ph.D. summa cum laude and with distinction at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst after receiving her BA degree with honors from University of Connecticut at Storrs. Kathleen is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi and Mortar Board.
Her primary areas of scholarly interest have been leadership communication, persuasion, politics in the workplace, negotiation and interpersonal communication. Public Opinion Quarterly described her first book, Persuasion in Practice, as a landmark contribution to the field.
Kathleen has taught negotiation, leadership and politics in the MBA, Executive MBA, and International MBA. For 15 years, she served on the USC Preventive Medicine faculty, developing interventions aimed at changing health habits among high-risk populations. She also served as associate director with Warren Bennis of the USC Leadership Institute.
She has authored 10 books and numerous articles, including three for The Harvard Business Review. Her 2001 book The Secret Handshake: Mastering the Politics of the Business Inner Circle (Currency, Doubleday) became an Amazon.com nonfiction and business best seller. It was followed by The Skilled Negotiator (Jossey-Bass, 2004), It’s All Politics: Winning in a World Where Hard Work and Talent Aren’t Enough (Currency, Doubleday, 2005), Childhood Denied: Ending the Nightmare of Child Abuse and Neglect (Sage, 2008), and Comebacks at Work: Using Conversation to Master Confrontation (Harper Business, 2010).
Her first novel, Shadow Campus, is an inside look at the politics of academia, a mystery-thriller and a love story. Forbes described it as a “masterful debut.” The sequel is underway for publication in 2015.
Kathleen was awarded the 2013 Humanitarian Award by the University of Connecticut Alumni Association based on her contributions to underserved groups, especially in originating and working to develop college prep academies for foster teens (www.firststar.org).
Kathleen is a signature blogger at Huffington Post (since 2005) and also blogs at her website (www.kathleenkelleyreardon.com).
Given the age in which we live, it’s easy to equate intelligence with access to information. And, of course, information is a significant part of knowledge and intelligence. But it is not wisdom. You could collect information all your life, and still have difficulty every day at work or in social groups because you haven’t learned to derive from information subtle forms of wisdom.
This is particularly true of becoming politically intuitive. You need connections with people who have acquired knowledge beyond what they're told. You can’t read the "tea leaves," so to speak, to sense what is really happening around you if you’re never invited to "tea" — or constantly decline the invitation.
The farmer who senses it’s time to bring in the hay, the race car driver who seems to instinctively avoid an accident, the fisherman who knows when to head back to port, the batter who can identify a pitch the instant it leaves the pitcher’s hand, and the intuitive politician all share an ability to read cues that others miss or ignore. They possess a particular form of wisdom — one acquired over time.
When we advise young people to seek out mentors, we do them an injustice if we fail to separate information from wisdom. Being connected, as is so popular today, can be a useful way to collect information. It is not, however, the road to wisdom. That road often requires doing something that we, in our adoration of the novel and new, often overlook. It calls for being around people who are likely older, perhaps seemingly less interesting than their flashier colleagues, prone to tell stories, and who possess an uncanny, keen sense of their surroundings.
Sir Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” He attributed much of his remarkable success as a scientist to having learned from the work of others. He was a synthesist, capable of drawing on the work of great minds.
Synthesists achieve insights not from standing alone atop a mountain ignoring all that came before them, not simply by owning the latest technology, but by drawing upon the wisdom of others to take the next step.
It’s useful to wonder whether our love of information and infatuation with connectedness is endangering wisdom. Add to this the tendency to dismiss people as they age. Culturally sanctioned fear and disdain of age places the very people who often possess what we need at the outskirts of society.
We should all have a mentor whose hand is not so much on the pulse of innovation, but who has seen innovations come and go. We should seek out people who know from acquired wisdom what it takes to synthesize — to achieve understanding beyond the grasp of those who merely tinker with countless, shiny, titillating bits of disconnected information.
Kathleen also blogs here.
Photo: Brian A. Jackson/Shutterstock.com
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