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!