Monday Mornings with Madison


We’ve seen how digital technology in daily life can be leveraged to make us not just smarter but wiser at work and in daily life. It is an interesting distinction. The terms smart and wise are often used interchangeably, and clever is also thrown into the mix. But these terms do not necessarily mean the same thing. 

A smart person is defined in general society as one who is educated, trained, experienced, and seasoned; perhaps one who is able to think quickly in difficult situations.  Smart people can look a situation and evaluate the right thing to do. A smart person at a company might be the person with a bachelor or masters degree, a license or certification in their area of expertise, and many years experience in that career. That person is capable of performing well professionally.  That might be the bank manager who ensures that employees are well-trained and provide good service, that customers’ banking needs are identified and fulfilled and that the facility is clean, attractive and functional. That person is promoted based on the daily ability to perform a job well.

In turn, a clever person is one who does well at their job, which may or may not require a college degree or certification, but also adds insight and perhaps responds in an unexpected way. Clever people evaluate a situation, determine the smart thing to do, and then look beyond that to determine a unique way to capitalize on an opportunity. They see ways to make things operate more smoothly. A clever person will look for ways to innovate, streamline, reprioritize or synthesize in order to achieve a better result. Clever employees are shrewd, insightful and show good judgment. A clever person might be the postal worker who reduces the time it takes to complete a delivery route by 20% simply by reorganizing the route or the line worker at a factory who sees a way to improve efficiency 15% just by eliminating a few of the steps it takes to complete a task. They see what others don’t see. They may not necessarily be ‘book smart’, in the traditional sense of the term, but they are sharp.

Many people are smart. The business world is populated by millions of smart people.  But a person can be both smart and clever by thinking the way a clever person thinks. Look beyond the situation and allow your imagination to consider other possibilities. Step outside of the proverbial box.

1. Ask ‘What if” questions.
What’s worst thing that could happen? What if I lost my biggest customer? What if I lost my job?  What if my industry tanks? The answers could indicate a great change in overall strategy and uncover unexpected opportunities. 

2. Flex your imagination.
Reality often hides opportunities that would arise if your actual business circumstances were different. Here are a few pretend scenarios to consider. Keep in mind that this kind of pretend play is not fun and might even be scary. But it may reap rewards.

* Pretend your business is out of money. While solid cash flow is great, steady revenue also hides opportunities to save money or optimize processes.  Consider how many businesses found ways to innovate and do more with less over the past few years. If the last few years didn’t already force you into that situation for real, then pretend. What would you do? Consider as many scenarios as possible. Mine those ideas for the golden nuggets. 

* Pretend you can’t follow the rules. Every business has rules, both written and unwritten.  As individuals, we all follow external and self-imposed rules.  What would happen if you couldn’t follow company guidelines to solve a problem?  What if the company had no guidelines? What if you couldn’t ask your boss for permission?  What if you couldn’t ask your partner for help?  What if your policy manual suddenly went missing?  You will probably find that some of the “rules” you follow aren’t rules at all; they’re just protocol… and may possibly be detrimental to the business. 

* Pretend you only have a few minutes to solve a problem.  Necessity is said to be the mother of invention… and speed may be the mother of cleverness.  Pick a problem and give yourself five minutes to reach a solution. Often a snap decision is the right decision because it cuts through the clutter and keeps you from second-guessing yourself. 

* Pretend you must decide in the next 60 seconds a business to start.  If you had to decide right now what would you choose?  Whatever types of business come to mind are probably ventures that you have been considering but haven’t had the courage, time or money to pursue. If you had the resources, could that venture be successful? 

* Pretend perfect is achievable. We tend to view improvement from a percentage-gain perspective:  Increase productivity by 10%. Reduce costs by 12%. Improve ROI 6%. We expect incremental gains rather than perfection.  What if the goal was perfection?  What would perfection look like? What would be required to achieve it? 

A person who studies, works hard, applies him/herself, focuses, and perseveres will be considered smart. Being smart is good. With a little more imagination and thinking outside the box, a person can be clever. It is better to be both smart and clever. 

But what about wisdom? What is wisdom and how common is it? Euripedes once said “Cleverness is not wisdom.” Indeed, wisdom is much more than intelligence or cleverness. A wise person is someone who consistently finds practical, creative, contextually-appropriate and emotionally-satisfying solutions to complicated human problems.   Think of King Solomon and the problem of how to divide a baby. Generally, someone wise is considered to have good intuition, profound insight, sound judgment, good problem-solving abilities and a clear moral compass. Few are truly wise. 

According to Psychology Today magazine, psychologists pretty much agree that “wisdom involves an integration of knowledge, experience, and deep understanding that incorporates tolerance for the uncertainties of life as well as its ups and downs. There’s an awareness of how things play out over time, and it confers a sense of balance.

Wise people generally share an optimism that life’s problems can be solved and experience a certain amount of calm in facing difficult decisions.” As they explain, while intelligence may be necessary for wisdom, it definitely isn’t sufficient to achieve wisdom. Among other things, a person is considered to have wisdom who can see the big picture, maintain a sense of proportion, and exercise considerable introspection.

In today’s society, it is essential to be smart just to survive. To break new ground or find unique solutions, it helps to be clever. But to achieve a balanced and fulfilling life, it takes wisdom.

“Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers.” Alfred Lord Tennyson

© 2011, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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