One of Russell Ackoff’s corollaries which I intuitively subscribed to but had yet to put to the test was that knowledge is not necessarily synonymous to wisdom. This goes back to the essential argument that quantity of information crammed does not necessarily result in a qualitative leap in understanding. Today I got the opportunity to test the power of Ackoff’s insight in an environment long regarded as a beacon of knowledge: academia.
Sitting only yards away from a professor emeritus of management with a long list of academic accomplishments, I was dumbfounded to hear him lucidly argue that innovation is the biggest threat to mankind’s prosperity. He was referring to the 2007 financial meltdown but proceeded to generalize his argument outside of financial markets. His “solution”? Regulate innovation so we slow it down and ensure it doesn’t get ahead of our collective learning curve. Not even the most devout communist party leader would have dared proclaim something even close to this in the old USSR. Looking at the guy with a certain amount of compassion I realized that one can spend his or her life studying and yet manage to avoid common sense altogether. Now there is something encouraging and reassuring to this story: common sense doesn’t seem to discriminate between the elites and common folk. This is important because it means that wisdom of the crowds on which democracy depends is evenly bestowed on the population. I sincerely hope this gives those with titles, power and fame pause to think. We are in a serious global deficit of humility and the elites certainly seem to be the major driver!
Could not agree more. (…and everything that follows is preceded by “In my opinion”…)
A common fallacy of our newfound instantaneous access to all of the information in the world – via the Internet – is that we no longer need to memorize anything. But memorization, or internalization, of knowledge in longterm memory gives us the information ‘at our fingertips’. Wisdom emerges when we are able to connect-the-dots between complex and disparate points of knowledge.
But our short-term monkey brain memory can only hold about 4 or 5 items at a time.
So, if we abandon our long-term memory to IP packets, how do we generate real insight and human wisdom? I fear that this may be a societal consequence down the road Though perhaps innovation can, yet again, find a way to save us from ourselves.
Your reply made me think of Ben Franklin’s famous “tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” I think you’re right: the relentless speed and attention span fragmentation fueled by social technology cannot be good for deep thought.