Dr Jane Gaukroger

Extract from Cultivating Wisdom – A collection of essays for leaders and organisational developers, 2020.

‘wisdom occupies what we might call the fertile hinterland between spirit and matter, mind and body, and heaven and earth. It slips easily between them, retaining that strange poise’

Wisdom as learned ignorance. Chia and Holt (2007)

Consciousness is one of three inner characteristics of the organisational wisdom framework offered in these Essays, alongside conscience and context. The inner characteristics are focussed on how we see and interpret our world. They are encircled by three outer characteristics of collaboration, compassion and courage which are more embodied and enacted in our behaviour. All six wisdom characteristics are profoundly connected and are relevant for individuals, groups, organisations and wider society.

Balanced knowing

In the research which provides the foundation for this framework, when leaders and developers were invited to reflect on wisdom, they offered a complex web of words and concepts which seemed to resonate with Chia and Holt’s ‘strange poise’ in wisdom (2007, p 523). There is an intriguing oppositional balance in pairs and trios of words including – conscious-unconscious;

rational-emotional; known-unknown; self-other; reflective-experiential; ideals-practice; experience- observation; individual-whole; past-present-future; short-long-medium term; selfish-altruistic etc.

The etymology of the word consciousness is ‘with knowing’ and this was selected as the title of the first wisdom characteristic in the integrated framework offered in these Essays. A high-level definition and further exploration are proposed below.

In the western tradition much of what we regard as knowing is focussed on what we might term ‘head’ knowing. It gives primacy to what we see as cognitive and rational ways of thinking and knowing.

Around the millennium in the first of the ‘handbooks’ on wisdom Labouvie-Vief (1990, p 76) argues for the re-integration of processes for knowing which she terms logos and mythos – the intellectual with the more intuitive. She sees wisdom as the grounding of intellectual operations in a ‘core of

interpersonal and intrapersonal processes’. In ‘The Wisdom Way of Knowing’ (2003, p 9) Bourgeault asserts that in accessing wisdom it is necessary to ‘bring the heart and mind and body into balance, to awaken…. the clarity of unitive seeing’. In ‘Presence’ Senge et al (2004, p 54) speak of ‘seeing from the whole’ redirecting from our head knowing, as detached observer, to ‘gut knowing’ and ‘knowing of the heart’ which they see as giving access to ‘perennial knowledge’. In this they refer to Eleanor Rosch’s work which distinguishes between ‘analytic knowing’ and ‘primary knowing/wisdom awareness’.

In the Preface to ‘The Master and his Emissary’ psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist (2010) explores the relationship between the left and right brain hemispheres, each necessary, working together and providing different pathways to truth. Beyond the individual brain perspective he argues that in the ‘modern’ Western world, increasing domination of the left hemisphere with its attention to detail and getting things done rather than the more holistic, meaning seeking focus of the right hemisphere has had profound cultural consequences. Richard Rohr (2019) starkly asserts that ‘After both the Reformation and the Enlightenment, Western Europeans reduced our ways of knowing to one for all practical purposes’.

The definition offered in this wisdom framework moves from the traditional dominant focus of the western philosophical tradition of ‘head’ knowing to include ‘heart’ (emotional) and ‘body’ (sensory and experiential) knowing. Within the wisdom framework offered there is also an allowance for a spiritual or transpersonal dimension. Takahashi (2019, p 634) notes that early psychologist William James’s work is ‘full of references to wisdom and spiritual phenomenon’ but that connections between wisdom and spirituality are only rare in more recent psychologists’ writings on wisdom.

This lack is interesting considering Khandwalla’s (1998, p 190) proposition that organisational

greatness involves traditional performance and something more ‘exalted’ through ‘responsiveness to human and social needs and moral and spiritual promptings’. Is attention to this a key development need for our organisations?

We might also consider wisdom as beyond consciousness. Jung’s psychology of balance incorporates the concept of the unconscious (personal and collective) which have a compensatory function to consciousness, bringing to the surface ‘subliminal material’ (1921, p 444). Roberto Assagioli, friend of Jung and founder of the school of psychosynthesis refined Jung’s concept of the personal unconscious and includes transcendent experience.

Wisdom seems to call for a more balanced way of knowing with access to a more unified field of awareness – which seems as true for groups and organisations and wider society as it is for individuals. Acknowledging and addressing imbalance in our ways of knowing, seems key in cultivating wisdom. Indeed, it is chastening to remind ourselves that in Jung’s theory of the four psychological functions of thinking, feeling, sensing, intuition (as later expressed in the well-known Myers Briggs Type Indicator) ‘all …should contribute equally’. In reality they are ‘seldom or never uniformly differentiated and equally at our disposal’ (1921, p 472). This tendency to imbalance is  also reflected in the Enneagram, another tool for personal and interpersonal understanding. The nine types of the Enneagram symbol are clustered in a triad made up of the instinctive, feeling and thinking centres. Though we possess all three components, our personality identifies most strongly with one centre and we become blocked in finding our ‘essential unity’. As Riso and Hudson (1999, p 29) put it ‘we have fallen asleep to ourselves’ but ‘our spirit is yearning to break free, to express itself, to come back to life, to be in the world in the way it was meant to be’ (p, 35).

As we think about cultivating wisdom it may serve us well to think of these tools for self-awareness as essentially releasing us to find greater balance.

A number of writers and developers have focussed on cultivating our wider intelligences. Working with Daniel Goleman in the field of emotional intelligence, Boyatzsis asserts that ‘emotional and social intelligence competencies are wisdom in practice’ (2007, p 223). Our capacity to bring

intrapersonal and interpersonal awareness and understanding and of our own and others’ emotions have a key place in wisdom. In ‘mBraining’ Soosalu and Oka (2012, p 65) build on neuroscience to argue for the integration of multiple brains (head, heart and gut) for emergent wisdom in leadership and offer a coaching model for this.

In the search for wider meaning, transpersonal development is advocated by John Whitmore (2009, p 217) who argues that coaching methods are needed which ‘seek to reach beneath the rational, logical and limited mind’ and to ‘give access to ‘the reservoir of potential, of creativity, of innovation,… of joy, love and compassion’ (p 215). Western (2012, p 155-156) sees in ‘Soul Guide Coaching’ the potential to offer something unique with the coach as ‘wise counsellor. It challenges modernity’s obsession with rationality, progress and order’. Hays (2013, p 131) observes that ‘transcendence is only beginning to surface as a relevant aspiration and topic in leadership and organisation studies’.

From knowledge to wisdom

TS Eliot famously asks: ‘Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?’ (Choruses from The Rock). Having considered more balanced modes of knowing for wisdom it is useful to consider what is known – the link between knowledge and wisdom.

Within the knowledge management literature, the ‘DIKW’ hierarchy proposes a progression from data to information to knowledge to wisdom (Zeleny, 1987; Ackoff, 1989). The apex is wisdom, but it is interesting to note how little attention seems to be given to it (Rowley, 2006).

As suggested earlier, perhaps a key reason is the modern western intellectual tradition in which certain types of knowledge have tended to have primacy. Rational, empirical, objectivist knowledge has brought incredible progress in understanding of the natural world, the human body and mind, engineering, technology, mathematics – the list is endless.

Within the wisdom literature itself a number of psychologists seek to define wisdom in terms of

‘knowledge domains’.  For example, Baltes and Smith (1990, p 87) offer a frequently referenced

‘Berlin Wisdom Paradigm’ which sees wisdom as ‘an expert knowledge system’ for dealing with the ‘fundamental pragmatics of life’. But writing in the same volume, Chandler and Holliday (1990, p

127) are worried that in approaching wisdom in this way it risks being reduced to a ‘sanitized psychological construct’ which doesn’t allow for an ‘overhaul in what we are prepared to regard as possible knowledge forms’.

Indeed, a distinction between knowledge and wisdom inquiry is a focus for philosopher of science Nicholas Maxwell (2014, p 22). For many years he has seen an urgent need for higher education institutions to move from knowledge inquiry for its own sake to wisdom inquiry for a clearer shared, human purpose centred on what is ‘of value in life for oneself and others’. However, he sees a clear place for scientific methods within such purposeful inquiry. MacIntyre (1981; 2009) echoes

Maxwell’s concerns. Whilst recognising many successes of the contemporary research university he regrets the small space for philosophy and theology which leaves inquiry into the ‘unity of a human being’ absent and the lack a ‘large sense of and inquiry into the relationship between the disciplines as each contributing to a single shared enterprise’ (2009, p 174 -175).

Rowley and Gibbs (2008) consider the relationship between organisational learning and wisdom and observe a value-free notion of organisational learning in contemporary learning literature and a

‘dominant cognitive paradigm … and little explicit reference to ethics and value systems’. Their proposition is that a practically wise organisation would be both ‘a virtuous and a learning organisation’ where knowledge grows not ‘in some form of human capital, but as wisdom’ (pp.367- 368). But they see little evidence of a link being made.

Alvesson and Spicer (2012, p 1213) argue that we are too easily seduced by our knowledge. They note that seemingly smart organisations (if rated by IQ levels) can be surprisingly stupid because of ‘lack of recognition of incompleteness and uncertainty of our knowledge and the frequently debatable nature of dominant goals and dominant logics’. At an individual level they note the many ways in which our thinking is subject to cognitive bias. At a broader level they note the apparent organisational stupidity which can manifest in many ways such as taking on board management

theories and ‘fashions’ which may be untested and unsuited to context (p 58). Binney, Glanfield and Wilke (2017) argue for a need to break free of a ‘bonkers’ organisational ‘orthodoxy’ of transformational leadership, addiction to change and a delusion of linear and planned strategy which dominates at considerable cost to worker wellbeing.

Reflecting across these perspectives there seems to be a blockage at the penultimate level of Zeleny and Ackoff’s hierarchy. We may be ‘smart’ in terms of knowledge acquisition and but not necessarily wise in application to our deepest human needs. Perhaps even worse, we take our knowledge for granted and overestimate how smart we really are and don’t seem very interested in the quality of wisdom.

As we think of movement up the hierarchy some writers offer ideas. Meacham (1990, p 187) argues that what truly matters in wisdom is our attitude to knowledge: ‘The essence of wisdom is not in

what is known but in how that knowledge is held and put to use’. The wise person displays humility in balancing knowing and doubting, neither over-confident in knowing nor paralysed by what is not known.

Chandler and Holliday (1990, p 134) offer some reassurance in reminding of Kekes’s view that being wise is not about acquiring new knowledge but ‘rediscovering the significance of old truths that, at some level, everybody already knows’. It seems that in wisdom there may be access to a shared understanding of deeper truths.

Moral consciousness and wisdom

Looking back to classical philosophy Aristotle described practical wisdom – phronesis – as involving both intellectual reasoning and practical action towards ‘human goods’. In this he incorporates cognitive, practical and moral elements. (Nichomachean Ethics; McKeon, 2001, p 1027). Virtue and wisdom are interchangeable. The wise person is oriented to what is good.

Robert Sternberg, the most prolific recent wisdom writer, offers the ‘Balance theory of wisdom’

which includes ‘application of successful intelligence and creativity as mediated by values toward the achievement of a common good’ (2003, p 192). Again, there is an emphasis on cognitive and practical elements – towards good ends.

Optimal consciousness is described by Mustakova-Possardt (2004, p 254) as ‘integration of the intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual aspects of a human being’. Again, we see integration including a moral dimension.

Recently Jawad and Kakabadse define five leadership intelligences’ IQ, traditional cognitive skill, EQ- emotional intelligence, PQ – political intelligence, RQ – resilience intelligence and MQ – moral intelligence (2019, p 7).

Howard Gardner (1993) whose theory of multiple intelligences includes musical, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences now also considers existential intelligence- the intelligence of ‘big questions’ – though he is reluctant to incorporate morality as an intelligence per se, noting its dependence on cultural context.

Drawing these perspectives together, the quality of moral consciousness in wisdom seems

important. In full consciousness there is a calling to ‘human goods’ (Aristotle), the ‘common good’ (Sternberg), ‘the big questions’ (Gardner). ‘what is of value in life for oneself and others’ (Maxwell), responsiveness to ‘moral promptings’ (Khandwalla).

There is a purpose in the awakened consciousness.

Romantic poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge stressed a consciousness-conscience connection, insisting conscience was the ‘ground of consciousness’. For Coleridge it is in the ‘relationship to the other…the Duty of Love’. (Perkins, 1994, p 249).

Conscience as the ground of consciousness brings us to the next characteristic of the framework. Jane Gaukroger, February 2020


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