Getting Smart vs. Getting Wise

Two hundred people were waiting for me to start a session.  Instead of lecturing them, I asked them to answer four meaningful questions.  The questions were engaging and the table conversations were intense. I invited them to share. Their answers were inspiring.  I then had them all do an unusual exercise.  They fully engaged and it led to more great inputs.  I had presented almost nothing and the learning in the room was already significant.

When I finally started covering my slides, the people remained interactive.  I continued to ask challenging questions and they continued to give excellent answers.  The process lifted them and it lifted me.  I began covering old topics in new ways.

At one point, I noted a theme in their comments about greatness. At the heart of excellence is the power of attraction.  I asked them to think about when they had been morally attractive.  I shared a favorite line from a thoughtful CEO about becoming more attractive: “Every leader gets the culture they deserve. If you want a better culture, what are you going to do to deserve it?”

I then had an impression to apply the notion to marriage and the family.  “If you have a marital relationship you are dissatisfied with, you might ask, ‘What am I going to do to deserve a better relationship?’ If you have a relationship with your teenager that is disintegrating, you might ask the teen, ‘What do I need to do to deserve a better relationship with you?’”

At that moment, I could feel something happen.  The focus and the oneness in the room intensified and learning deepened.

Afterwards an African American woman who had chaired the event came up to talk.  She said, “I have been thinking about what you said about teenagers.  I have been teaching my teenager to confront barriers and learn his way into progress.”

I responded, “You are operating at a high professional level and you are an African American woman.  To get to this level you had to do more than others do.  You had to face barriers others do not face.  You know that the key to success is the ability to maintain a higher purpose, encounter barriers, stay positive, and engage in deep learning.  The white parents are telling their kids to do their math and get smart.  You are teaching your kid how to engage in deep learning and get wise.”

She was frozen.  She looked off into the distance.  She was making connections and seeing things she had not seen before.  She asked, “Have you written this up in one of your books?”  We went into a very meaningful conversation.  She left with new feelings and new vision.

As I reflect on that experience, it seems to me that this conversation and others like it emerged because of the collective conversation. In the classroom, we created a network of collective intelligence, a positive organization. This gave them the courage to approach me personally. It gave me the courage to challenge them. We were able to co-create new life strategies.



What is the difference between getting smart and getting wise?

Why and how did a network of deep learning emerge?

What does it mean to co-create new life strategies?

How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?


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