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Practical Wisdom

February 25, 2009
by Joe Bormel
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Practical Wisdom

Great organizations cultivate wisdom, in concert with rules and incentives

This month, in Long Beach, California, there was, apparently, another great

TED conference. "TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is an invitation-only event where the world's leading thinkers and doers gather to find inspiration."

The talks are freely available on the Web and can auto-magically appear on your iPod by subscribing to TEDTalks. The closing talk at this recent TED was

"The real crisis? We stopped being wise - Barry Schwartz (2009)." This 21 minute video is worthy of being played in the hospital boardroom, both for inspiration and to review the recipe to become

the best hospital on the planet.

Make Yours The Best Hospital on the Planet? Fifteen years ago I heard John Glasser describe that as fundamental to the vision of anyone truly committed to improvement. I think he's right, so I'm repeating it as often as I can get away with!

In this context, Barry Schwartz does a great job of reviewing the recipe to become the best. He calls out the fact that as a society, the tools we use to try to achieve improvement goals, Rules (read Policy) and Incentives, by themselves uniformly make things worse in the long run. Neither nor both are enough. Schwartz underscores his position using four interesting topics:

- Why Obama is right about virtue.

- Why “practical wisdom,” an idea introduced by Aristotle, is the key to virtue.

- How America has unwittingly been engaged in a war on wisdom.

- Sources of hope to end the war on wisdom.

Given our recent topics of P4P, the incentive provisions of ARRA (economic stimulus package), unintended consequences, and our higher order theme in these blogs of the role of leaders, I think calling attention to Schwartz’s video is in order.

Here are a few quotes excerpted to whet your appetite:

  • Brilliance is rampant; without wisdom, brilliance is as likely to get you into trouble as anything else.
  • Scripts (policies) are insurance policies against disaster, but they assure, in its place, mediocrity.
  • Excessive reliance on incentives demoralizes professional activity in two senses of that word. It causes people who engage in the activity to lose morals, and it causes the activity itself to lose morality.
    • "We must ask not just is it profitable, but is it right." Obama: 12.18.2008
  • Even the wisest and most well meaning people will give up if they have to swim against the current in the organizations in which they work.
  • The single most important thing kids need to learn is character. They need to learn to respect themselves, respect their schoolmates, respect their teachers, and most important, they need to learn to respect learning.

And if your goals include improving your presentation skills, go

here after viewing the video.

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