Assessing Wisdom Continuity within your Organisation

In his renowned book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell tells the story of how in 1983 the J. Paul Getty Museum in California acquired a rare marble statue from an art dealer. The statue was a 6th century BC kouros – a sculpture of a nude male with his left leg forward and his arms at his side. What set this kouros apart from the other 200 in existence was its pristine state of preservation. At an asking price of $10 million, the Getty was eager to validate its authenticity and have the wonderful kouros as part of their exhibition. So, the Getty commissioned archaeologists and geologists to verify that the kouros was in fact legitimate. After 14 months of investigations the results came back positive – the kouros was not a fake. The Getty bought the statue. It was a remarkable find and an invaluable addition to the museum as reported by numerous publications and historians at the time.

There was however a problem. At first sight of the kouros, a handful of experts in the field felt an uneasiness about the kouros. They often remarked, “It just doesn’t look right”. The most telling anecdote of such doubt came from one of the world’s foremost experts on Greek sculpture, Evelyn Harrison. Harrison remembers, “Arthur Houghton, who was the then curator, took us down to see it … He just swished the cloth off the top of it and said, ‘Well, it isn’t ours yet, but it will be in a couple of weeks.’ And I said, ‘I’m sorry to hear that.’ ” What did she see? She did not know. All she had was a hunch that the statue was a fake. The Getty had already paid for the statue. Heated debate and tests ensued that again tried to validate the authenticity of the kouros. Scientific answers were sound in its favour, but the general hunch of the experts was that it was a fake. To this day the issue is unresolved and in the Getty’s catalogue, the kouros appears with the caption, “About 530 BC, or modern forgery.”

How and why did the experts feel this hunch? There were no observable criteria that justified this feeling and none of them could verbalise their “intuitive repulsion” besides a cursory, “It just doesn’t look right.” Don’t you often have this feeling as well? You know something, but you can’t quite explain how and why you know it. There’s a wisdom that comes through in addition to the experience and knowledge you have on a subject. Vehicle mechanics often tell of how they can diagnose a problem with a car by simply listening to the engine running. It is this type of knowing that we at TomorrowWisdom term Wisdom – a knowing that transcends the parameters of experience, skills and ability.

It is also this Wisdom that brilliant leaders and executives hold within themselves in our businesses. It is a Wisdom that drives the success of our companies, and it is a Wisdom that we know very little about. Typically, we have relied on succession planning mechanisms in the hope of somehow retaining this magic. Sadly, this has not worked and we are now seeing how the impending Baby Boomer (ages 45 to 60) retirement boom will leave voids in our businesses as our leaders head off with all of their amassed Wisdom.

Organisations need to be able to harness this Wisdom and transfer it to those who replace these Boomers. But before this can be done, organisations desperately need a firm grasp of what this Wisdom is that their Boomers hold, how they came to develop it, and how the organisation may best transfer it. As such, TomorrowWisdom employs a process known as Wisdom Continuity & Transfer to facilitate this. As a first step in this process, the Wisdom Continuity Assessment utilises various narrative facilitation techniques, that leads key stakeholders towards identifying who the key people are in the company who possess the Wisdom critical to their success. This step provides the foundations for identifying who the Wise One’s are and what, in particular, their Wisdom is how the organisation may harness it.

The Wisdom Continuity Assessment is an interactive workshop process with key stakeholders that plots, from a historical perspective, the development of Wisdom of an individual or team. As a preliminary step in preserving Wisdom, the Assessment will weave together an analysis of who holds your organisation’s Wisdom (Who Knows), How they Know it and provide a strategic path for transferring the Wisdom.

The Assessment will provide the organisations the following outcomes: a map for how the Wisdom will be harnessed & transferred, a definition of the current situation and track backwards the events and influences of Wisdom against the backdrop of alternative histories. The Assessment also identifies the key people who might be the repositories of Wisdom in the organization and what their “Wisdom” might be as well as the key events that have lead to the building of that Wisdom.

Finally, the Wisdom Continuity Assessment creates a common language that propels the organisation and stakeholders forward in preserving the Wisdom of the Wise. As a first step in the Wisdom Continuity process, the assessment is a much needed tool in helping leaders become intentional about what they know, and how they know it.