Leadership, wisdom, mind-sets and all that – Part 3


So what about the future? Gerard Chick, chief knowledge officer of Optimum Procurement continues his thought leadership in the third and final part of his three part series.

Parts 1 and 2 alluded to the issue of complexity in life and business; and if we are to deal with complexity successfully, and make progress in the world today, we have to start by getting the simple things right. This needs to be based on more effective understanding, and a greater use, of accumulated wisdom.

Unfortunately, and all too often problems arise precisely because we haven’t got the simple things right and this includes the need for a greater emphasis on sharing knowledge. In recent years we have seen efforts to move people from the idea of ‘Working Harder’ to ‘Working Smarter’ or perhaps ‘Working Wiser’. We need to be moving from ‘A Knowledge Society’ to ‘A Wise Society’. And, the more we move along that progression, the more we need to recognise that we are moving to a situation where the important issues primarily reflect the quality of our values, rather than the quantity of our physical effort.

If we are to improve the quality of our decision making in business and for that matter elsewhere in society, then the focus needs not only to be on the quality of our information but, perhaps even more importantly, on the ‘smart’ use of that information.

Consequently we need to be, concerned with what is the core knowledge, distilled through the experience of history into wisdom, which is critically important for us to preserve and pass onto future generations? 

Probably the most important of those simple things to get right is for leaders to ‘walk the talk’. It is relatively easy to know what the ‘right’ thing to do is – the hard thing is to ensure that it actually gets done. Indeed, why does it appear to be relatively easy to recognise wisdom, but so incredibly difficult to be wise in practice? I guess this is where the maxim “those who are arrogant with their wisdom are not wise“, comes from.

The wise decision inevitably includes value judgements, beliefs and feelings, as well as technical analysis; which perhaps makes leadership an art and making management a science. What surprised me when I started thinking about this subject, in the context of business and ‘what we will do next?’ – was the paradoxical gap between how critically important this area is in all our lives, and yet how often it seems to be almost totally ignored in the mainstream ‘literature’.

Yet another paradox is that we appear to be spending more and more time focusing on recycling information which has in essence had its day, and less time on knowledge that overlaps with wisdom that will serve us well in the future.

It could be argued that one reason for the recent obsession with an information based approach is because it provides a relatively simple framework within which one can get agreement of decisions; a situation where the ‘plural conditional’ is diluted down into the ‘single definitive’.

In my estimation, there are two answers to such concerns:

  • Firstly, values are implicitly involved in all decision making, and all we are doing is making the discussions about the values dimension more explicit. Clearly this should be at the heart of any discussion on strategy, leadership and knowledge acquisition and sharing. It is by making information/knowledge/values more explicit through more effective dialogue that we can improve the effectiveness of our learning processes.
  • Secondly there is an abundance of evidence which suggests that there is much more agreement across all cultures about fundamental human values (and wisdom) than is generally recognised, in reality on might argue that globalisation and all that it encompasses bears this out.

Drawing some conclusions from these three blog posts will help us to understand why we should be interested in the future; a future we probably won’t be around for. By taking a peek into the future we can give ourselves some space and time to, ‘re-ask’ these fundamental questions:

  1. Why don’t we spend more time to ensure that the important messages that we have learned in the past (our accumulated ‘wisdom’) can be passed on to future generations?
  2. How do we ensure these messages are learned more effectively?
  3. How can we focus on and bring context to values related issues, and ‘the search for meaning’, in both management and leadership of modern organisations?

I find it very interesting that the core issues of leadership were well defined almost three thousand years ago by Lao Tzu when he wrote in the Dao De Jing:

“The highest type of rule is one of whose existence the people are barely aware.
Next comes one whom they love and praise.
Next comes one whom they fear.
Next comes one whom they despise and defy.
When you are lacking faith,
others will be unfaithful to you.
The Sage is self-effacing and scanty of words.
When their task is accomplished and things have been completed,
All the people say, ‘We ourselves have achieved it!’”

Perhaps one cannot be taught ‘wisdom’, but we must somehow, push ourselves towards attaining it. So as the Ramones once put it – Hey Ho Let’s Go…


Gerard Chick is chief knowledge officer Optimum Procurement.

His latest book, The Procurement Value Proposition tackles critical challenges head-on and sets a bold new vision. The book examines how organizations can use procurement to drive competitive advantage. It features insights from business leaders and case studies of companies that are moving through procurement transformation.


About Author

Procurement and Supply Australasia (PASA) is the leading provider of information and education to procurement and supply professionals throughout Australia and New Zealand. PASA supports the largest community of engaged procurement stakeholders in the region, through its renowned series of events, publications, awards, plus various community and network building activities. PASA is a trading name of BTTB Marketing, for many years recognised as the leading producer of conferences and events for the procurement profession in Australia and New Zealand. Whether producing under the BTTB, CIPSA Conferences or now PASA brands over the last ten years, our events have consistently led the market in terms of both educational and networking opportunities.

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