Tuesday, February 25, 2020
Wisdom is inherently hard to pin down and even harder to justify as a practical consideration for complex decision making. But three things have emerged in recent years to put wisdom centre stage. Firstly, we are facing unprecedented threats to our very survival as a species and the standard political, economic and social decision-making frameworks are proving to be ineffective. Secondly, two decades of research into wisdom has revealed credible ways to understand, measure, and enhance wise reasoning in decision making. And thirdly, the rise of evidence-based coaching and mentoring over the last 20 years has legitimized the role of coaching and mentoring as the primary intervention for developing wise reasoning. Now, more than ever we need to deliberately coach for the development of wisdom in our leaders, before it is perhaps too late.
The problems with measuring wisdom through self-report scales arise from the inherent limits to introspection and the processes of impression management. As Professor Ute Kunzman from the Life-Span Developmental Psychology Unit of Leipzig University points out, “a wise person likely underestimates his or her wisdom-related traits and competencies and someone who reports the belief that her or she is wise is likely to be not wise”.
The assessment of wisdom-related knowledge via the Berlin Wisdom Paradigm has been the empirical standard amongst researchers in wisdom for over two decades. Experienced rater evaluations of subjects articulating their responses to a dilemma against the five criteria of the paradigm exhibits satisfactory inter-rater reliability, consistent external validity, and meaningful associations with personality characteristics.
While the multi-method approach to the assessment of wisdom may be the preferred method of investigating wisdom more comprehensively and via sources other than the individuals being assessed, it can be cumbersome and costly. Professor of Psychology at Langara College in Vancouver, Canada, Jeffrey Dean Webster argues for the utility of self-report measures on the basis that they are:
1. Focused, standardised, and quantitative.
2. Relatively inexpensive and easy to administer, code, and analyse.
3. Can be used in virtually unlimited sample sizes, which contributes to external validity.
Self-report measures capture an array of properties of personal wisdom drawn from multiple of sources. However, validity questions need to be addressed, such as: whether a component of a questionnaire is an integral feature of wisdom or a correlate; if the measures capture a unique feature of the construct of wisdom or are actually measuring some other personal attribute; that the scale measures more than just the Big Five personality traits.
The Stein Institute for Research on Ageing at the University of California San Diego have recently developed a psychometrically robust self-assessment of six components, the San Diego Wisdom Scale (SD-WISE). Taken together, they represent the best approximation of system 3 decision-making. In other words, an individual scoring highly across all components might be expected to do well in wisdom-related performance tasks such as those used in the Berlin Wisdom Paradigm.
Coincidentally, Professor of Developmental Psychology at Alpen-Adria University Klagenfurt, Austria, Judith Glück and colleagues from the original Berlin Wisdom group have come up with their own self-assessment of wisdom, the Brief Wisdom Screening Scale (BWSS). This is a validation of four scales from the literature, plus the Berlin Wisdom Paradigm. While there is some overlap with the more recent SD-WISE scale, these additional wisdom elements add greater depth to system 3 decision-making:
1. Self-Transcendence - The innate desire to discover meaning in human life. It is associated with experiencing a decreased reliance on social definitions of self, a greater sense of connectedness with past and future generations and considering oneself an integral part of the universe.
2. Mindfulness - The skill of bringing your attention to whatever is happening in the present moment. It is sustained, focused attention on meaningful tasks and activities. This element is necessary to balance mental activity with mental control. Paradoxically, finding mental stillness can enhance productivity and creativity.
3. Compassion - Going out of your way to help the physical, mental, or emotional pain of another and of yourself. It is recognizing others’ distress and having a desire to alleviate it, although it is also associated with fairness, justice, and interdependence. Cultivating compassion through training contributes to greater altruistic behaviour and the development of neural systems implicated in understanding the suffering of others. And compassion can be measured.
My proposed self-assessment scale of system 3 decision making, the Third System of Thinking Profile (T3 Profile), includes some validated items from the SD-WISE, the BWSS, and additional items from my own research and practice. An initial scale of 36 items was formed from each of the 9 elements of wisdom (above), randomized, with positive and negative directions, scored on a 5-point rating scale.
Verified data from 114 data sets was originally tested for multivariate normality, revealing all items on the questionnaire to be normally distributed with only one outlier. The first model was hypothesized to comprise 9 latent constructs, with each construct thought to be measured by four different latent variables. The factor analysis was conducted by observing the variance-covariance matrix with full information maximum likelihood (ML) estimation on SPSS Amos program version.
Investigation of factor loadings, structure coefficients and latent covariation and correlation led to a 7-factor solution as the best model for assessing fit. However, the results of a follow up confirmatory factor analysis with more data sets suggested 6 latent constructs which could be explained by just 18 items with sufficient discriminant power. These 6 factors were labeled:
1. Focus – items relating to task attention.
2. Life experience – items from self-transcendence and openness to new experience.
3. Decisiveness – items about readiness to make decisions and readiness to give advice.
4. Compassion – items from self-compassion and insight.
5. Emotional regulation – items about controlling emotions as well as peace of mind.
6. Tolerance for divergent values – items connected with accepting others’ morals and values, insight into the reasons for one’s actions, and openness to diverse viewpoints.
The current version of the T3 Profile is a self-rating survey of these 6 factors which might best be described as competencies of system 3 thinking. High rating across all 6 competencies is hypothesized to describe an individual who has an increased likelihood of using system 3 thinking effectively when faced with a dilemma. Medium or low rating for one or more of these competencies is hypothesized to mitigate an individual’s capacity to think and act effectively when faced with a dilemma.
Ask how to get your T3 Profile here, it's FREE!
Tuesday, February 18, 2020
How wisdom contributes to decision-making has been attracting a lot of research interest lately. Professor of Human Development at Cornell University, Robert Sternberg defines wisdom as “the search for a moderate course between extremes, a dynamic between knowledge and doubt, a sufficient detachment from the problem at hand, and a well-balanced coordination of emotion, motivation, and thought".
For the past two decades the Berlin Wisdom paradigm has served to operationalize wisdom as a scientifically grounded psychological construct. Wisdom is defined as “good judgement and advice in difficult and uncertain matters of life”. The five criteria used for assessing individual wisdom-related performance are intended to reflect a balance between intellect and character:
1. Rich factual knowledge about human nature and the life course,
2. Rich procedural knowledge about ways of dealing with life problems,
3. Lifespan contextualism – an awareness and understanding of the many contexts of life, how they relate to each other, and how they change over the lifespan,
4. Value relativism and tolerance – an acknowledgement of individual, social, and cultural differences in values and life priorities, and
5. Knowledge about handling uncertainty, including the limits of one’s own knowledge.
The elegant experimental design of the Berlin Wisdom paradigm has provided robust findings:
- Wisdom is an ideal, rather than a state of being. Many adults are on the way toward wisdom, but very few people approach a high level of wisdom-related performance as measured.
- The period of late adolescence and early adulthood is the primary age window for wisdom-related knowledge to emerge. Age may be necessary but it is not sufficient to guarantee wisdom.
- Neither academic intelligence nor basic personality traits play a major role in the development of wisdom-related performance during adulthood.
- The expression of wisdom-related performance can be enhanced by relatively simple social interventions. For example, having respondents discuss the problem with a trusted adviser, or asking respondents to engage in inner dialogue about the problem with a person of their choice, or even instructing respondents to “make a wise choice” increased performance levels by almost one standard deviation.
The Center for Practical Wisdom at The University of Chicago has been promoting the scientific understanding of wisdom and its role in the decisions and choices that affect everyday life through the Defining Wisdom Project (2007-2011) and the Wisdom Research Project (2012-2015). Center Director, Professor Howard Nusbaum defines wisdom as “prudential judgement in the service of human flourishing”. The most important aspects of research at the Center have been to find the experiences and practices that enable people to increase their wisdom.
The Stein Institute for Research on Aging at The University of California San Diego has also been researching wisdom. Curiously, they discovered the ‘Ageing Paradox’, the finding that people in general report feeling happier as they age! They recently identified six components of wisdom from a comprehensive literature review:
1. Social Advising - This involves having a good general knowledge of life and how to apply it in solving social problems, often hard-won through personal life experience. This element also involves an understanding of the developmental course of human life and how to apply relative judgement to different stages of the life cycle.
2. Decisiveness - It is important to think about the pros and cons of everything before deciding. That needs to happen initially, but at some point, you do have to decide. You must be decisive and act upon it. This element is about recognizing ambiguity but making quick and effective decisions. Not sitting on the fence too long.
3. Emotion Regulation - Regulating feelings and exercising self-control is essential to good judgement. Not “flying off the handle” or withdrawing. Control over your emotions is not absence of emotions but having control over the magnitude and the variation in them. At the same time, emotion regulation is primarily associated with more positive emotions. Not an extreme, ecstatic kind of positivity, but more contentedness.
4. Insight - This is knowing yourself. It includes self-reflection and the ability to analyze and understand yourself and your actions. Striving to do that through self-reflecting and understanding one’s strengths as well as one’s weaknesses.
5. Pro-Social Behaviours - These are things we do for others rather than for ourselves. This element represents an understanding of how others are feeling, a capacity to imagine what it must be like for them, and a preference for altruism, and a sense of fairness.
6. Tolerance for Divergent Values - Acceptance of diversity of views means you may have strong feelings about something, but also understand why somebody else might have different feelings about it. It doesn’t mean that you give up on your values, but you can also understand why someone else may feel or think differently. It also means not being 100% certain that what you think is right, which means you’ll be more prepared to change your mind if new information presents itself.
The Wisdom and Culture Lab at The University of Ontario, Canada has been pivotal in establishing a practical framework for wise thinking that lends itself to better decision making. According to Professor Igor Grossmann and colleagues, “wise thinking is a skill. It is not simply an attribute of a person but rather a property of person-in-context. The potential for wise thinking emerges in the interaction of the person and their environment”.
Wise reasoning seems to mediate the effects of age on wellbeing. In other words, just thinking wisely improves life! Wisdom needs to be considered in the context of everyday life according to Professor Grossmann and colleagues. The central characteristics of wisdom have a dynamic component. Just because you are wise in one context does not mean you will be wise in another. Understanding the situational contingencies where wise thinking may lead to wise actions is vital to promoting wisdom. For example, one way to buffer thinking against bias in cases where self-interests are unavoidable is ‘ego-decentering’. In other words, viewing events from a “fly on the wall” vantage point.
In situation-specific experimental conditions, Professor Grossmann and colleagues have been able to demonstrate that wise reasoning varies across cultures (e.g., younger and middle-aged Japanese showed greater ability to reason wisely than their U.S. American counterparts), women are somewhat better at wise reasoning than men, and wise reasoning dips in middle-age (35-50) and then rises!
Not all decisions need wisdom, but wise decisions need the psychology of wisdom to be effective.
Wednesday, February 12, 2020
It seems self-evident that decision-making has gotten more complex and tricky in the first quarter of the Twenty-first Century. Being smart is certainly necessary but it’s no longer sufficient for the wicked problems we must solve if life on our planet is to be sustainable.
We are facing the early impacts of runaway climate change, political discourse is becoming increasingly authoritarian, social media algorithms are polarizing opinion and creating “artificial ignorance”, enraged religious and political criminals strike indiscriminately, walls are being built to keep out ‘the other’, new technologies leapfrog each other in breathless utopian anticipation, government and community institutions implode through loss of trust, and business institutions seem more riven by greed than at any time since the fall of the Roman Empire. We may well be on the way to the collapse of civilization, even though we all agree on what to do, and yet we seem incapable of taking action (Oreskes and Conway, 2014).
As Margaret Wheatley (2017) declares with uncharacteristic pessimism, “this world does not need more entrepreneurs. This world does not need more technology breakthroughs. This world needs leaders.” And moreover, leaders who are wise.
The ability to lead wisely has been all but forgotten. All the knowledge in the world did not prevent the collapse of the global financial system and the subsequent unearthing of unconscionable behaviour by our most trusted financial and insurance institutions (Ferguson, 2019). “What is curious”, write management researchers David Rooney and Bernard McKenna, “is that wisdom has been valued by humanity for thousands of years and in all cultures, but it is something that managers, business schools and management researchers rarely mention” (Rooney, McKenna, and Liesch, 2010).
We need to choose wise leaders. But wise leaders are not always charismatic and charismatic leaders are rarely – probably never – wise (Sternberg and Glück, 2019). There is nothing the world needs more right now than wisdom, and those coaches and mentors who can facilitate wise thinking in the leaders they work with.
“Business now demands a different kind of leader”, say famed Japanese Management Professors, Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi (2011) in their breakthrough Harvard Business Review article, “one who will make decisions knowing that the outcomes must be good for society as well as the company… they also need a third, often forgotten kind of knowledge, called phronesis, or practical wisdom.”
We need wisdom because intelligence and creativity are not enough for creating a better world. Sternberg (2019) distinguishes between deep wisdom, non-wisdom, and foolishness. People can be highly creative or highly intelligent, they can exhibit quasi-wisdom or pseudo-wisdom, but the six cognitive fallacies of foolishness can be seen in too many of our business, political, and community leaders on the world stage.
Ferguson, A. (2019). Banking Bad. Sydney, NSW: HarperCollins.Oreskes, N., and Conway, E.M. (2014). The Collapse of Western Civilization. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
Nonaka, I., and Takeuchi, H. (2011). The wise leader: How CEOs can learn practical wisdom to help them do what’s right for their companies – and society. The Harvard Business Review, May.
Oreskes, N., and Conway, E.M. (2014). The Collapse of Western Civilization. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
Rooney, D., McKenna, B., and Liesch, P. (2010). Wisdom and management in the knowledge economy. London: Routledge.
Sternberg, R.J. (2019). Race to Samara: The Critical Importance of Wisdom in the World Today. In: Sternberg, R.J., and Glück, J. (Eds.) The Cambridge Handbook of Wisdom. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Sternberg, R.J., and Glück, J. (2019). Why Is Wisdom Such an Obscure Field of Inquiry and What Can and Should Be Done About It? In: Sternberg, R.J., and Glück, J. (Eds.) The Cambridge Handbook of Wisdom. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Wheatley, M.J. (2017). Who Do We Choose to Be? Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler.