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Friday, February 06, 2009

Two Wisemen

What does it take to be wise? It has to be more than knowledge, it has to be more than just experience, it is more than just training, but all those things are required as a foundation for wisdom. Then you need to add insight, creativity, looking at things through the right lense and a certain type of focus. It also requires a quiet conviction that you can prevail and you are right.

I think all of these traits define two recent heros. One is Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III who managed to land a US Airways Airbus A320 safely on the Hudson saving every single passenger.

Few people thought this was even possible. An article in Wikipedia states:
In December 2002, The Economist had quoted an expert as claiming that "No large airliner has ever made an emergency landing on water" in an article that goes on to charge, "So the life jackets ... have little purpose other than to make passengers feel better." This idea was repeated in The Economist in September 2006 in an article which reported that "in the history of aviation the number of wide-bodied aircraft that have made successful landings on water is zero."
For the full article click here.
Of course we all know that a wise and skillful pilot did what so called experts thought was impossible. Experts are not necessarily wise.

The transcripts have been released and I admire the calm and curt manner with which he spoke with the tower who hadn't fully grasped the situation and were trying to get him to some runway. Finally Sully simply said, "Unable." He brought to bare his flying wisdom and acumen and safely landed the plane safely in the river...seemingly impossible and not even part of the discussion from the tower. They never though of the water as an option...only runways. Sully is a wise man.

The second person is Henry Markopolos who was repeatedly rebuffed by the Securities and Exchange Commission in his efforts to blow the whistle on Bernard Madoff. In fact, Mr. Markopolos is still giving SEC tips they are are not able to determine for themselves.

Yet, Henry never gave up. He kept pressing the point and during the process even feared for his life because of the type of people and the amount of money he was dealing with. When asked how long it took him to figure out Madoff's fund was a fraud, he responded "about five minutes." He looked at the literature from Madoff's firm, noticed an impossible straight line trajectory of returns (no peaks or valleys) and concluded that the type of behavior indicated on the chart was not possible and was fraduelent. Did others not see it? They looked but didn't see.

He then investigated for about 4 hours to confirm his instant assessment and he concluded that mathematically the returns were impossible. Then he meticoulsy gathered the evidence and delivered to the Securities Exchange Commission who then refused for whatever reason (the cynic in me says corruption, the optomist says incompetence) refused to investigate it seriously.

Learning and development professionals cannot create wise individuals but we can work to provide a platform and a basis for the wisdom to grow.


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Clark said...

Gotta agree with talking about wisdom. I like Sternberg's model, where it's thinking short and long term, with all stakeholders, not those just close, and with a sense of values (I reckon that's your "right lense and certain type of focus" (sic). It's the willingness to do the right thing even if it's difficult that's real heroism.

Re: optimism/cynicism, I like the rubric: it's unnecessary to posit conspiracy when incompetence is sufficient explanation.

Karl Kapp said...

Thanks for the comment, I enjoyed your paper on Wisdom and particularly liked your thoughts about what should be in a wise curriclum. Your list of
Makes a lot of sense as does your emphasis on communication. Wisdom is a skill that can be taught to a large degree, although I think experience plays a huge role. And the role of a facilitator or instructor in that case is to help the learner see his or her experience in a new light, to help them discover their own wisdom that is in them but undiscovered.

In terms of value, I heard Sulley's wife say he was passionate about flying...his values in this case may be said to be centered on flying (and of course saving lives).

Interesting topic and discussion points.