|Collaboration||Valuing and accessing the wisdom held across peoples. Individuals hold their own wisdom and collective wisdom emerges through listening and dialogue, in an environment of trust and openness.|
|Compassion||Conscience enacted through generosity, kindness, fostering development and growth and knowing and valuing diverse strengths. Humane action. Care for all, by all.|
|Courage||Having the courage to embody wisdom. Courage and risk are finely balanced, finding an appropriate place between fearfulness and fearlessness.|
Having defined organisational wisdom characteristics, it is also possible to see these operating at different levels. This builds on a number of psychologists and organisational writers including Torbert (1998) and Sternberg (2003) who see interlinking of relationships and interests in wisdom across intrapersonal (first person), interpersonal (second person) and extrapersonal (third person) dimensions.
First, organisational wisdom is seen as present at the level of the individual character. Second, organisational wisdom is seen in the group or team character. Third, organisational wisdom is seen in the processes, systems, infrastructure and activities which together with people constitute the wider organisational character. Fourth, there is a relationship with the overarching character of society. This latter character was evoked in the research as ‘bigger forces’ which may support wisdom (eg climate change consciousness) or potentially pull against it (eg an overly dominant economic consciousness).
The integrated framework at Figure 1 connects the six characteristics and four characters.
Implications for practice
The framework offers potential for those working in and with organisations, to consider the wisdom present at different levels and to use this to guide development (explored in more depth in Essay 9). The framework is more of a compass than a diagnostic. It is intended to prompt reflection and bring a new perspective to existing measures of progress and impact rather than to supersede them.
Taking a specific characteristic, at the level of the individual working in the organisation there may be strength in ‘conscience’ with attention to personal ethics and integrity. But some policies at the level of the organisation character may be less consistent with it, for example tax avoidance practices or huge pay differentials between those at the top and bottom of the organisation.
In considering organisational character it may be relevant to comment on links and distinctions with culture which gets much attention in organisational literature. The distinction is not clear cut. In the aftermath of corporate scandals, we are used to hearing commentators note the need for culture change. A wisdom orientation might suggest this too easily depersonalises responsibility – with culture discussed in relativistic and amoral terms.
An alternative focus on organisational wisdom, character and characteristics brings greater proximity and responsibility. At a basic, linguistic level, we would not use the term culture in relation to an individual, but in this framework, it is linguistically and conceptually possible to use ‘character’ across the levels. In this way, the framework offers a quality of interconnectedness which seems consistent with the universal perspective of wisdom and brings attention to consistency across the whole.
A further question might be whether the knowing characteristics precede the doing ones. If we want to foster wisdom in our organisations, is it best to begin with a focus on the first three? In wisdom, knowing and doing are fundamentally intertwined. Thinking and practice connect. We might notice that mindfulness practices are increasingly being used in organisational development activities.
These can bring calm and insight – hopefully increasing our ‘awakeness’ (consciousness), commitment to our world and our fellow humans (conscience) and deeper understanding of and sensitivity to our own and others’ situations (context). But a further challenge is the practical, embodied implications so that wisdom speaks through our work with others towards shared goals (collaboration), our care for others (compassion) and our willingness to stand up for wisdom and to speak out when people, organisations or society are not wise (courage). As Gilbert and Choden (2013, p 207) remind us ‘Historically, mindfulness has always been based on ethical values and allied to a body of wisdom; it has not stood alone as a skill in its own right’.
The following essays explore the characteristics in more depth and what they call from us.
In embarking on this consideration of wisdom we should be encouraged by McKenna and Rooney (2019, p 668) who strike a positive note about wise leadership:
‘This is ancient knowledge lost which is now being regained. We can be better at this and we have no reason not to be. The future is still hopeful’.
Beyer, J. M., and Nino, D. (1998). Facing the future: backing courage with wisdom. In Srivastva, S., and Cooperrider, D. L. (Eds) Organisational Wisdom and Executive Courage. San Francisco: The New Lexington Press.
Bierly, P. E. III., Kessler, E. H., and Christensen, E. W. (2000). Organisational learning, knowledge and wisdom. Journal of Organisational Change Management. Vol. 13. No. 6.
Chia, R., Holt, R., and Yuan, L. (2013). In Praise of Strategic Indirection: Towards a Non-instrumental Understanding of Phronesis as Practical Wisdom. In Thompson, M. J., and Bevan, J. (Eds) Wise Management in Organisational Complexity. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Csikszentmihalyi, M., and Rathmunde, K. (1990). Psychology of wisdom: evolutionary interpretation. In Sternberg, R. J. (Ed) Wisdom – Its nature, origins and development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Gaukroger, J. E. (2016). Organisational Wisdom – what is the contribution of the organisational development practitioner. PhD thesis
Gardner, H. (2010). Good Work: Theory and practice. Cambridge: Harvard University. Available at goodworkproject.org
Gergen, M. M., and Gergen, K. J. (1998). The relational rebirthing of wisdom and courage. In Srivastva, S., and Cooperrider, D. L. (Eds). Organisational Wisdom and Executive Courage. San Francisco: The New Lexington Press.
Gilbert, P., and Choden. (2013). Mindful compassion. London: Robinson
Goodpaster, K.E. (2007). Conscience and Corporate Culture. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Hays, J. (2013). Wicked Problem: Educating for Complexity and Wisdom. In Thompson, M. J., and Bevan, J. (Eds). Wise Management in Organisational Complexity. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Kessler, E. H., and Bailey, J. R. (2007). Handbook of Organizational and Managerial Wisdom. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, Inc.
Khandwalla, P. N. (1998). Thorny Glory: Toward Organisational Greatness. In Srivastva, S., and Cooperrider, D. L. (Eds). Organisational Wisdom and Executive Courage. San Francisco: The New Lexington Press.
Kupers, W. M., and Pauleen, D. J. (2013). A Handbook of Practical Wisdom – Leadership, Organisation and Integral Business Practice. Farnham: Gower Publishing Limited.
Maxwell, N. (2014). How universities can help create a wiser world: the urgent need for an academic revolution. Exeter: Imprint Academic.
McKenna, B., and Rooney, D. (2019). Wise Leadership. In Sternberg, R. J., and Gluck, J. (Eds). The Cambridge Handbook of Wisdom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Rowley, J., and Gibbs, P. (2008). From learning organisation to practically wise organisation. The Learning Organisation, Vol 15 Iss: 5 pp. 356-372.
Srivastva, S., and Cooperrider, D.L. (1998). Organisational Wisdom and Executive Courage. San Francisco: The New Lexington Press.
Sternberg, R. J. (1990). Wisdom – Its nature, origins and development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sternberg, R. J. (2003). Wisdom, Intelligence, and Creativity Synthesized. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Sternberg, R. J. (2005). A Handbook of Wisdom – Psychological Perspectives. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Sternberg, R. J and Gluck, J. (2019) (Eds). The Cambridge Handbook of Wisdom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Thompson, M. J., and Bevan, D. (2013). Wise Management in Organisational Complexity. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Torbert, W. R. (1998). Developing wisdom and courage in organising and sciencing. In Srivastva, S., and Cooperrider, D. L. (Eds). Organisational Wisdom and Executive Courage. San Francisco: New Lexington Press.