It’s not all about being clever, where’s the wisdom?

One of the things I’ve found hard and different about working in a think tank (or perhaps it’s more the type of people and professions you start to interact with when being in a think tank) is the value placed on cleverness and intelligence (of the IQ variety). I should say that this isn’t what Doteveryone is like, but more what the world around a think tank can look and feel like, from my perspective.

The essence of think tankery culture as I’ve experienced it, is of being reactive, insistent, being demanding, cunning, creating debate, having an opinion, knowing the most, being the best, making a point, valuing the tangible and quantifiable, and having the loudest voice. I suspect a lot of this is because think tanks tend to operate within a stone’s throw of Westminster — often there’s a set of invisible revolving doors that people get swept through on their social capital (often Ox-bridge afforded) between think tanks, Westminster, and Policy Director-type roles — and no doubt the culture spreads.

What I realised I’ve been missing is wisdom — which I find much more of in those communities of practice that are rooted in lived experience, with people I know who work with a different kind of power. It reminded me of Lao Tzu’s philosophy of the differences between Intelligence and Wisdom. This is what we need more of if we are to influence change — good questions rather than clever answers, seeing the interconnected-ness of everything, being aware of who isn’t there or what isn’t being said, and definitely a lot more kindness.

Intelligence leads to arguments. Wisdom leads to settlements.

Intelligence is power of will. Wisdom is power over will.

Intelligence is heat, it burns. Wisdom is warmth, it comforts.

Intelligence is pursuit of knowledge, it tires the seeker.

Wisdom is pursuit of truth, it inspires the seeker.

Intelligence is holding on. Wisdom is letting go.

Intelligence leads you. Wisdom guides you.

An intelligent man thinks he knows. A wise man knows he thinks.

An intelligent man always tries to prove his point. A wise man knows there really is no point.

An intelligent man freely gives unsolicited advice. A wise man keeps his counsel.

An intelligent man understands what is being said. A wise man understands what is left unsaid.

An intelligent man speaks when he has to say something. A wise man speaks when he has something to say.

An intelligent man sees everything as relative. A wise man sees everything as related.

An intelligent man is always insistent. A wise man is ever consistent.

An intelligent man tries to control the flow. A wise man goes with the flow.

An intelligent man is wordy. A wise man is worldly.

An intelligent man preaches. A wise man reaches.

Sometimes it is better to be kind than to be right.

Run UK Portfolio at National Lottery Community Fund, Co-founder of the Point People, Policy Fellow IIPP, Founder Stewarding Loss, International Futures Forum.

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