Moving from Information to Wisdom

So many books, so little time.

Therefore, I frequently listen to audio books I get for free from the library to maximize my time while driving or exercising. (If you’re a book fiend like me and haven’t yet discovered the Overdrive app, check it out!) Recently before embarking on a long car ride I “grabbed” Ariana Huffington’s new book “Thrive.” In it she said something that has really made me think. I will paraphrase it here:

Information does not beget Knowledge
Knowledge does not beget Understanding
Understanding does not beget Wisdom

How often have you known someone who gathers a piece of Information and immediately considers themselves an expert? (Because obviously WE have never done this ourselves!) There is so much information out there that we consider ourselves wise if we read something on the internet. But I believe there are three important steps that need to take place first.

1. Remember It
Have you read something fascinating then tried to tell someone about it, realized you can’t remember the cool facts, then end up with, “Well, I’ll send you the link so you can read it yourself”? This is the classic and most common blunder of not really paying attention to the information enough to have the knowledge to be able to share it with someone else.

2. Apply It
If you have memorized the data points (and thereby have the knowledge), can you apply it? This has happened to me when I teach my university HR Management class. I have the information and the knowledge about the NLRB and Taft-Hartley Act and other labor relations tidbits, but I’ve never worked with labor relations, so I don’t have the understanding to be able to apply it. (Knowing this deficiency is why I always have my friend, who’s an expert in labor relations, come and be a guest speaker for this portion of class.)

3. Live It
Having true wisdom is akin to the Self-Actualization capstone on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: it reflects angelic-like breakthrough understanding that permeates all levels of the issue. (This is why I believe the best CEOs are those who started out as janitors, line workers, and fry-cooks.) It’s when you study and know and understand something so deeply that it becomes a natural part of your being – your gut reaction, or – as Seth Godin calls it – your “lizard brain.” Like when you can tell your child really doesn’t feel well or something is bothering your spouse. When you can answer a question at work without thinking about it. When you can take one look at a close colleague and know they are applying for another job.

Moving from Information to Wisdom takes acknowledgement, patience, and the courage to have the discipline and to ask the questions to get there. I am convinced we cannot be truly wise about everything (it would take away from the magical quality of wisdom!) but once we achieve true wisdom on those things that we are passionate about, it is a heavenly elation.


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