Helping you make wise decisions in your life

When did you last regret a decision you made? Can you envision where you would be today if you had made that decision differently? Imagine what you could achieve in your life, in your business and even in the world if you could always think, decide and act with true wisdom. The good news is, you can. With the right tools and techniques you can learn how to make decisions that have the most positive impact on all concerned.

Friday, 27 March 2009

End of the World

"Graham Dyer's Newsletter" from February 2009 chortles that he predicted "the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression" and "you ain't seen nothin' yet". There are always people predicting "the end of the world as we know it" and eventually they'll be proved right. But 2009 could be a little premature. And while this has the potential for being a particularly nasty recession, life will go on.

Friday, 13 March 2009


Resilience means to jump back to the original shape after compression. From the Latin re-salire 'jump'

At the Melbourne Business School's Sydney Alumni Dinner last night, John Hartigan, Australian CEO of News Limited, spoke about the need for "character" in difficult times. I think he would have agreed that resiliency is an important aspect of character.

How do you build such a character? I think it derives form core values, experience of 'jumping' back from failure, ability to tolerate complexity, willingness to imagine the future, and courage to take action. In short, wisdom!

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

The Wisdom of Politics

Billionaire Warren Buffett says the US economy could recover in five years, likening the current battle against prolonged recession as a Pearl Harbour-like situation during World War II.

Buffett, who heads the holding company Berkshire Hathaway, said the Federal Reserve's "prompt and wise action" had prevented the situation from "getting even worse" as the central bank cut interest rates to virtually zero and took other steps to reign in turmoil.

Asked about the poor economic recovery and plunging inflation, he said "it will depend on the wisdom of government's politics".

So, how do public officials enact wisdom in these difficult times? And, perhaps more importantly, how do those same officials protect against folly in decision making?

Monday, 9 March 2009

Wisdom Research

I've been following the "Highlights of Wisdom Research" from the University of Chicago since it was set up last year. You can subscribe by sending an email to:

As expected, the focus is pretty much on the philosophy of wisdom. What I'm vitally interested in is how to create an experience of practical wisdom, particularly for leaders of public and private enterprises. I want them to come away from a one-day workshop with profound insights into how they confront dilemmas, and some working templates to apply in making wise(r) decisions.

Now is surely the best time to explore wisdom at work, in the Global Financial Crisis/Obama era of integrity management!

Saturday, 7 March 2009


My favourite social commentator, whimsical cartoonist and poet, Michael Leunig published a "Guide to the Glooms" in the Sydney Morning Herald Weekend Edition, February 28 - March 1, 2009:
Common House Gloom: "a popular and reliable gloom imported from England".
"The Bad Blanket": "a creeping nocturnal gloom causing insomnia and paralysis".
"The Brown Banana": "a cocooning gloom causing a curved downcast stoop".
"The Slug": "a slow, heavy, dragging sort of gloom".
"The Double Mattress": "an unwieldy, exhausting gloom for two".
"The Grey Constellation": "a group of frightening glooms in orbit around a person in a spin".

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Phronetic Leadership

Frenetic or Phronetic?

Phronesis (Prudence, Practical Wisdom):
* A virtuous habit of making decisions and taking actions that serve the common good.
* A capability to find a “right answer” in particular context.
* Deliberate reasoning and improvisation which synthesizes particulars and universals.
* Can be acquired only through high quality direct experiences.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Coaching for Wisdom

Coaching is an intentional dialogue between a leader in an organization and a coach who uses a wide variety of behavioural techniques and methods to shape a journey from one place of identity and meaning to another place, from which the leader can more wisely manage their own life and the life of the organizations they serve.

I use an intentional process in coaching sessions to elicit wisdom-thinking, wisdom-decision making and wisdom-performance, which I call the “FORMat” model of coaching for wisdom.

The highest purpose for coaching in troubled times must be to make the leader’s implicit wisdom resources more explicit and to help them shape those resources into a personal “compass” to make wise decisions in the service of a common good!

Enhancing Wisdom

There are three ways in which wisdom-performance may be enhanced:
(1) Life experience
(2) Teaching skills and ways of thinking, and
(3) Short-term interventions.

Coaching is a deliberate intervention to move the client along “the path of progressive development” toward some higher level of functioning as a person, and particularly as a leader, for the achievement of agreed goals. Coaching questions intentionally activate the individual’s conceptions of personal wisdom depending on their developmental preparedness, their level of engagement with the coach, and the particular outcomes expected of the coaching assignment.

The Berlin Wisdom Paradigm

At the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Education in Berlin, wisdom is defined as “expert-level knowledge in the fundamental pragmatics of life”. They described five dimensions of wisdom-related knowledge:
(1) rich factual knowledge: general and specific knowledge about the conditions of life and its variations;
(2) rich procedural knowledge: general and specific knowledge about strategies of judgment and advice concerning matters of life;
(3) life-span contextualism: knowledge about the contents of life and their temporal (developmental) relations;
(4) value relativism: knowledge about differences in values, goals, and priorities; and
(5) uncertainty: knowledge about the relative indeterminancy and unpredictability of life and ways to manage it.

Wisdom as Personality

Who is wise? Recognizing wisdom in others presumes that there are characteristics that reside within the person.

Associate Professor Monica Ardelt (2003) measures wisdom by assessing the attributes and personality characteristics of wise individuals. She identifies the simultaneous presence of three dimensions of personality as both necessary and sufficient for a person to be considered wise:
(1) the cognitive dimension: a desire to know the truth and attain a deeper understanding of life, including knowledge and acceptance of the positive and negative aspects of human nature, of the inherent limits of knowledge, and of life’s unpredictability and uncertainties;
(2) the reflective component: self-examination, self-awareness, self-insight and the ability to look at phenomena and events from different perspectives; and
(3) the affective component: sympathetic and compassionate love for others.

Wisdom as Balance

Wisdom decision making is all about balance, in knowing what to do on what task in what situation and against what timeframe. From the PACE (Psychology of Abilities, Competencies, and Expertise) Center at Yale University, Bob Sternberg (2005) has defined wisdom as “in large part a decision to use one’s intelligence, creativity, and experience for a common good”.

Wise leadership involves synthesizing intelligence (academic, and practical/tacit), creativity (skills and attitudes), and wisdom (balancing interests and responses, moderated by values, in pursuit of a common good) to achieve wise outcomes for all possible stakeholders.

Wisdom as a Pathway

Richard Kilburg (2006) makes the claim that wisdom in leadership, particularly in executives of large commercial and government enterprises, is a special case. Taking a lead from the Berlin wisdom paradigm he defines executive wisdom as “an expert system in the fundamental pragmatics of organized human life” (Kilburg, 2006).

Executive wisdom emerges as a result of discernment (a combination of rational and intuitive perception), decision making (time frame, perspective and planning), and action (implementation) linked dynamically and interactively with each other through experience, feedback, and evaluation.

Investment Decisions

It’s the Scare-Market crash! What are you invested in? Before you think of asset class, think of which emotions you’re most heavily invested in right now.

Barbara Fredrickson, a social psychology professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has found that people who experience positive emotions show heightened levels of creativity, inventiveness, and “big picture” perceptual focus.

Importantly, the return on investment in positive emotions is that you relax back to physiological baseline after stress much faster than those invested in negative emotions. In short, you live longer!

Changeable You

Bob Kegan, Professor of Adult Learning and Professional Development at Harvard University and Co-Director for the Change Leadership Group, suggests any intentional shift from our old identity (X) to a new identity (Y) takes 6 steps:
1. X is the old way of being - familiar, comfortable, acceptable.
2. But then we get a sense that there’s “something else out there for me”, even if we don’t quite know what that is yet. This step is represented as X(y).
3. As we develop a clearer sense of what we want (Y) we begin to feel anxious about what we’re leaving behind (X). “What if I can’t do it? What if it’s not real?” This is represented as X/Y.
4. Then we get excited about the change. “I wish I could be more (Y)”. Yet there’s still a fear of loss of the old way of being. This step is represented as Y/X.
5. The next step is a deliberate declaration of the new identity represented as Y(x). We avoid people we used to associate with at X. We become resistant to criticism. “I love it here and I won’t be pulled back!” Yet there’s still __baggage__ from the previous identity (x).
6. Finally, at Y we fully embrace the new sense of self. “This is a new life - a second chance!”

This is Your Life

Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Florida, Monika Ardelt, found a close relationship between “coping strategies” and wisdom.

When faced with a life dilemma those with higher measures of wisdom used:
1. Mental distancing: Stepping back, reflecting on the situation, calming down, and taking time to look at the problem objectively.
2. Active coping: Mentally reframing the problem as an interesting challenge or a puzzle rather than an unpleasant event, making the best of things.
3. Application of life lessons: Learning from negative life experiences, accepting that life is unpredictable and uncertain.

By contrast, those who were rated relatively low on wisdom measures exhibited:
1. Passive coping: Acceptance and/or reliance on God to deal with crises and obstacles in their life.
2. Avoidance of reflection: Not pondering on the best way to deal with a crisis, making no attempt to reflect on the meaning of crisis and hardship in life.

Thinking Wisely

What’s the difference between thinking strategically and thinking wisely?

Strategy is the art of war - the word itself derives from the Greek stratēgos (stratos, “army” + agō, “to lead”). To think strategically is to “form a cunning plan, or scheme, especially for deceiving an enemy”.

It makes sense to have a strategy - for business success, for career planning, for political action. But is making a strategic decision the same thing as making a wise decision?

Inside Out

Here are some guidelines for living life authentically:
1. Know your values. Your beliefs and attitudes suggest what you value in life. What motivates you most is generally what you value and if you’re not motivated by it (or by him or her!) then you don’t value it.
2. Allow others to hold different values to you. The extent to which you can tolerate differences of opinion and not feel the need to defend your own is a fundamental quality of the authentic self.
3. Take time to reflect on the lessons you’ve learned from your life so far. When have you acted wisely and when have you acted foolishly? What made the difference? And what advice would you give yourself now?
4. Notice the likely effect you have on those around you. There are always three aspects of any action you might take - the effect on key individuals, the effect on the “community” to which they (and you) belong, and the effect on you. Don’t leave your own interests out of the picture!
5. Life can never be certain. See the situation as it really is, not as you wish it to be. Pain is real. But it’s possible to develop a way of handling it. That way is to be found in cultivating stillness - the art of being.


Here are some interesting findings from the field of Neuroeconomics:
* Money provides direct reinforcement of the same brain circuitry as a wide variety of reinforcers such as attractive faces, funny cartoons, sports cars, and drugs!
* Our brain gets a kick out of earning high returns for their own sake, and presumably feels pain with the experience of parting with it.
* This might explain why we have a preference for prepayment for certain items, even where prepayment is financially irrational. Our brain seems to be choosing to enjoy consumption and avoid the pain-of-paying.
* According to brain research we are not even consciously aware of the moment of decision, giving rise to self-deception and self-manipulation.

The Dysfunctional Triangle

Life’s a game! And if you don’t know the rules then you’re the one being played!

The most common game set-up is the ”Dysfunctional Triangle”. There are three players: the Victim, the Persecutor, and the Saviour. A typical play looks like this:
* The Victim complains about being hard-done by (“it was better under the old regime!”), or not having enough time or resources (“it just can’t be done that way!”), or not enough clear direction (“I don’t remember you telling me to do that!”). But the game can’t proceed without a
* Persecutor - someone representing the cause of the Victim’s apparent misery. The Persecutor is task-driven (“just do it!”), insensitive (“I don’t care if the dog ate your homework!”), and usually cruel (“if it wasn’t for you we could have had this project finished weeks ago!”). As a two-hander this game can go on for months or years! But at some point it always draws in a
* Saviour who rides in to rescue the hapless Victim from the evil Persecutor. The Saviour expresses concern (“yes, I know, I know, ….”), offers help (“I’ll finish the job for you”), and is the go-to person for everything (“let me see it before it goes out”).

Wise Up

What makes you wise is how well you demonstrate these five criteria in responding to life’s problems:
* General Knowledge: Both academic and practical “smarts”. What do you really know about life?
* Strategic Knowledge: Can you suggest many different ways of analysing or judging life problems? How much operational knowledge do you have about life?
* Contexts: can you take the “long view” in relation to yours or someone else’s life? How well can you interpret the developmental and social contexts of life?
* Values: It’s too easy to impose your own values on what seems the “right” thing to do. But can you see life from the perspective of other people’s values and preferences, and can you make allowances for that?
* Uncertainty: can you accept that life is inherently “messy”? There are no perfect solutions. How well do you tolerate ambiguity in your own life and the lives of those around you?

Strategic Conversations

So often we’re called on to “wrestle” opponents in verbal battles for supremacy: From negotiating a favourable contract settlement to getting your point across in a meeting. Is it just a game of “my ego is bigger than your ego”? Or can anyone play?

Here are four valuable techniques to help you get the edge in strategic conversations:
1. Listen more than talking. About 5 times more in fact! You learn much more about your opponent by listening to him than by hearing yourself.
2. Ask more questions. Look what happens in TV interviews: “He who asks the questions controls the conversation!”
3. Don’t take it personally. As soon as you feel “hooked” emotionally, you’ve lost the conversation. Let your opponent have her “spray”. It can no more affect you than a wet dog shaking itself!
4. State your position clearly and deliberately. Don’t fluff around. If you’ve thought about it beforehand you should know exactly what’s at stake for you. Make that clear to your opponent, while at the same time inviting comment. “That’s my position – what’s your view?”

The Four Agreements

Here are four agreements that will prevent your history from repeating itself and lead to personal freedom:
1. Be impeccable with your WORD: You create your world through your words, so be very careful what you say. Say only what you mean. Words have the power to build up or destroy. Speak with integrity.
2. (DTIP) Don’t take it personally: It’s not about you. What others say or do to you is a projection of what is happening for them. Be immune to others opinions.
3. Don’t make ASSUMPTIONS: When you try to guess what others are thinking you come up with all kinds of hallucinations. Have the courage to ask questions and communicate what you really want.
4. (DYB) Do your best: Always do the best you can, with what you’ve got, where you are. Under any circumstances, doing your best will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse , and regret.

Wisdom Compass

Wisdom-decision making is a set of frameworks for making decisions about the fundamental pragmatics of life, when you are faced with big decisions, choices that profoundly affect your life and the lives of others.

A wisdom compass for leadership is:
1. The application of tacit knowledge through,
2. The acknowledgement of core values,
3. Balancing the interests of self, stakeholders, and the organizational community,
4. By adapting, shaping, or selecting appropriate responses,
5. In order to achieve a sustainable common good, while,
6. Directing attention to the processes of discernment, decision making, and action and,
7. Facilitating reflection and insight through experience, feedback, and evaluation.

Good Decision

How do you make a good decision without too much emotional bias? There are two decision making strategies, vigilant and hypervigilant. Under a vigilant decision making process the decision maker:
* Thoroughly scans all available information,
* Scans information in a systematic and sequential manner,
* Devotes a consistent amount of attention to each data point, and
* Reviews all alternatives before making a decision.

Research suggests that in the real world a hypervigilant decision making process is actually more effective. The decision maker:
* Scans only that information needed to make an assessment,
* Scans information in any sequence,
* Rapidly attends to selected data points, and
* Reviews needed information only when required.

The idea is to get more flexible in your decision making strategies. Work out when it’s best to use a simpler, hypervigilant strategy, and when the situation and available time allows you to apply a more analytical vigilant decision making process.

The March of Folly

“Wisdom”, wrote the famed American Historian, Barbara Tuchman, is “the exercise of judgment acting on experience, common sense and available information” (1984). The opposite of wisdom is “folly”.

Folly in leadership is:
* The pursuit of counter-productive policy. Mankind in the form of Troy’s citizens is addicted to pursuing policy contrary to self-interest.
* Denial of a feasible, alternative course of action. The feasible alternative – to burn the Horse – is always open.
* Relying on group policy-making. The reasoned decisions of an individual leader are often no match for the “groupthink” of a collectively-determined policy.
* ”Wooden-headedness”. Refusing to benefit from experience, and assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs.

Intentional Wisdom

The questions you first need to answer for yourself in order to demonstrate wisdom are:
* Who is the person in your life who provided you with the best moral, ethical, or values guidance?
* In your personal experience, who best represents someone who both has and abides by a moral- or values-based position in life?
* Who is the most immoral person you personally know or have known? How did you discover their lack of morality? What did you learn from him or her?
* What three books, plays, movies, or other sources of learning have most instructed you in moral reasoning or moral conflict? How and why did they influence you?
* In you training as a leader, what enables you to best identify and manage ethical values and moral issues?
* Identify three of the most important issues or moral principals that you believe a leader should keep in mind?

Developing wisdom demands intentionality. It’s a tough job overcoming self-importance and judgment. All too easy to believe I’m right and everyone else should just shut up and take notice! Even more difficult is the fact that what might be viewed as a wise choice at one point in time might turn out to be folly years later, and vice versa!

Transformational Intention

Here are 5 pre-conditions for your awareness of Transformational Intention:
1. You must be capable of thinking systemically, at least at Kegan’s (1994) Fourth “Order of Mind”. For example, do you acknowledge that you are the “author” of your own life?
2. You must have a good level of “learned optimism” or “authentic happiness”.
3. You must have some demonstrated success in setting and achieving goals in your life. Not necessarily earth-shattering goals. Just ordinary, garden-variety goals!
4. You must have a sufficiently developed level of “emotional intelligence” to interact successfully with social networks.
5. You must also have at least some established skills or occupational capability within the framework of possibility you wish to consider. It’s neither accurate nor fair to claim that anyone can do anything they want, just by following the “steps”, whatever they may be. It’s like saying a 6-year old can drive from Sydney to Melbourne if they really want to!