The scarcest, rarest, and most valuable resource in the world today is wisdom. The countries, companies, and people that possess it will prosper. In many ways, wisdom is the opposite of strategy — and today, it is strategy, bought by the dozen from legions of besuited, back-slapping consultants, that is cheap, abundant, and worth little.
How large is the economic gap between wisdom and strategy? It begins in the billions. JPMorgan wasn't wise, and now it has to set aside $3 billion in "model-uncertainty reserves." Toyota wasn't wise — and the price of that lack of wisdom is already $10 billion and rising. Think wisdom's warm-and-fuzzy? Think again. It's as hard-as-nails, and as sharp as a razor.
Here's a nine step plan to go beyond mere strategy and begin bringing a little wisdom into your own organization.
Express. Most organizations have values — vague, boring, meaningless statements about what's important to...them. Values, of course, are the basis of strategy. That kind of megalomaniacal egoecontricity's so 20th century. Wisdom isn't about what you "value" — it's about how everyone values you. To get wise, articulate your essence: the change you want to see in the world. That means literally crafting a statement of intent about "the world", like Google: "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible."
Energize. Wisdom doesn't happen by hanging out in the VIP section and sipping Grey Goose — though the deal-making of strategy often does. It happens by understanding the who, why, what, and how of suffering. Do you, or does your organization spend any time with those who are made worse off by what you do? Almost none do. But that's the only source of the most explosive kind of horsepower — not just physical or intellectual energy, but emotional and ethical energy.
Channel. Once you're energized, it's time to channel your energy most productively. How wide is the gap between the change you want — and the change that is? Most people, like most organizations, focus on living up to a "best practice", or living to the expectations of beancounterly analysts or warmongering chieftains. Forget it. Wisdom is measured against a higher standard than mere strategy: the one set by what people, communities, and society lack. If your organization doesn't have them yet, start building them.
Ignite. Strategy is carried out militaristically, by doling out formulaic tasks to be completed. Wisdom, in contrast, requires space for experimentation and play — for people to find new ways to change the world. Google's 20% time is going the way of dinosaur — and so, unfortunately, is its wisdom. If you don't get time at work to ignite wise ideas, ask for some, or better yet: take some.
Evoke. Strategy is the application of force. Wisdom is the application of love. Strategy suppresses, but Wisdom evokes. Its test is the ability to spark new ideas, concepts, and solutions. That is how to be valued by people, communities, and society — and it's what Starbucks is learning at mystarbucksidea. The lesson? Stop working and start evoking.
Examine. Apple won't be defeated the day Microsoft makes an Applier phone. It will be defeated the day Apple makes a more Microsoftian gadget. The rule? Strategy's battle is defeating a rival, by any means necessary. But Wisdom's battle is the real one: never to compromise your essence, the way you want to change the world. Wise organizations — like wise people — spend time every day examining whether the rot of compromise has led, unintentionally, to self-defeat.
Raise. Strategy is concerned with the low: profit, here and now, by any means necessary allowed within the rules of the game. Wisdom, in contrast, is about what's higher. Can you hold yourself up to a higher standard than the bare minimum rule-makers ask for — and by doing so, create more value? That's the difference between Wall St's "regulatory arbitrage" and microfinance's nascent revolution. That's the real-world question Wisdom asks to ask ourselves every day to reset and continually raise the bar.
Be. Strategy is about doing; wisdom is about being. Strategy asks us to seek examples of people or organizations who are "doing things right" — and do what they did. The result? At best, a lack of improvement, and at worst, a vicious downward spiral in standards, quality, and value creation. Stop looking for examples. Set an example. One that, like Threadless, the world hasn't seen before — because no one's had, well, the wisdom.
Renew. Strategies are as disposable as a cheap plastic razor. But wisdom is eternal. And that means that it's a ceaseless quest for learning. Here's the measure of a wisely spent day: one where you learned five new things. At the end of the day, can you articulate them? If you can't, odds are you're not acting wisely. Wise organizations institutionalize everyone's daily learning, and a simple path to wisdom is to be the person in your organization that brings the Rule of Fives to life.
Are you wise — or merely clever, smart, and cunning? If it's the latter, prepare to be hit by a neutron blast of disruption. The 21st century isn't just about bigger and faster: Strategy is obsolete. It's time to wise up.
Wisdom is a Jupiter-sized topic. The principles above are far from the only ones, the best ones, or the "right" ones. So fire away in the comments with your own principles, reflections, or further examples.
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