3 doorsEarlier this year, I wrote about the ROI of Failure, in which I explained that the return on that investment is wisdom, with a giant asterisk as a caveat. You have to be prepared to generate and gain wisdom. This time around, we’ll look into the ROI of Wisdom; how exactly is it identified and can it be quantified or applied?

Experience is too often mistaken or used interchangeably with wisdom. There’s a big difference between the two. Experience can be measured with a scorecard and registered with yes/no checkboxes.

  • Do you have 3-5 years of “experience”?
  • Are you a college graduate? Six Sigma? PMP?
  • Have you launched an app? How about SaaS?
  • Ever used [name of software]?
  • Have you been part of a pivot or reorganization?
  • Have you managed people? Hired people? Fired people?
  • Written a product spec? Made a roadmap? A kanban wall?
  • Ever had a successful launch? Ever failed in the market?

This is all considered experience. You’ve either done it or not. Its binary. A career-based bucket list.

Everyone who has failed has gained the experience of failure. Not all have gained wisdom from failure.

Hiring Managers and Recruiters write out job descriptions with Required Experience and rattle off a list. They lock and load keywords into their ATS systems and wait for the algorithm to buzz through hundreds of incoming applications like a wood chipper and spit out a handful of “qualified” ones. The marketing folks at Brassring and Taleo would tell you their wood chippers are more like coal presses that spit out diamonds on the other end.

The fact is: everyone who has failed has gained the experience of failure. Not all have gained wisdom from failure. To know why you failed, collected learning and understanding, determined a path to success or developed a plan to increase the odds of success. Even then, not all wisdom is good. Experience alone doesn’t cut it. There is no checkbox for wisdom.

Wisdom is defined as, “the quality of having experience, knowledge and good judgement” and sub-sequentially, “the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge and good judgement.”

checklistExperience is the binary yes/no flag of “have you done this?” The “true/false” part of the test.

Knowledge digs deeper and is the “essay” portion of the test; “what did you learn from this experience, what did you take away? Were you paying attention to important things/lessons?

Judgement is the application of experience and knowledge in new situations. It is what happens after you take the test, leave the classroom and experience similar conditions in the real world. Like most judgements, it is based upon interpretation and is unique to individuals. “Wise” people are particularly skilled in all three traits, with a demonstrable track record of success and accumulation of experience, knowledge and application of good judgement.

The ROI of Wisdom is Confidence.

The hot buzzword is “innovation”. Companies are cutting the ribbon on gleaming “Innovation Centers” and forming “innovation teams”. Some even have a Chief Innovation Officer. Based on the definition, these teams are tasked to come up with new methods, ideas and products. Innovation is often applied to the challenge of “emerging technologies”, so the company can be a leader, beat their competition and sieze opportunity in unplowed fields. This happens to be an area in which I specialize, so I am naturally drawn to these companies and initiatives.

The big problem this introduces is uncertainty in the face of uncertainty. “Come up with a new product to explore a new market channel”. Safer alternatives are “apply this successful product to this new channel” or “define a new product to introduce to this established channel”. Succeed or fail, repeat until you’re wildly successful or the money runs out. Lean Startup methodology preaches failing fast and cheap. This is good for small, incremental steps but occludes the team’s ambition to take larger risks or think with a bigger mindset or in terms of larger scale success. It curtails the very definition of innovation: innovate…but not “too” much. Established brands/companies are much more comfortable with small steps. Disruptive startups don’t give a **** and go all-in. They win or bust. Conservative startups tend to act too much like their larger competition, only without the capital to fund a long runway of baby steps. Most fizzle out with not much more than a hard drive full of Powerpoints to show for it.

choicesThis is exactly why you need to seek out those with wisdom. Wisdom, when properly applied, brings confidence to the entire value chain. It provides clarity and belief of vision and opportunity. It galvanizes a team with the conviction of their direction, it gives assurances to those funding the venture; certainty in the face of uncertainty. It is why a loose cannon like Captain Kirk is dangerous by himself and Spock is boring and always plays by the rules – a safer bet but always in last place. Put them together and you’ve got the audacity of imaginative ideas tempered with the logical application of history and process. Those with wisdom have both a Kirk and Spock in them. (The really good ones also have a little Scotty in them that just makes stuff work no matter what.) Seek out those with wisdom and your company will indeed “Boldly Go.”

One last thing. You won’t find a “wisdom” section on any resume. You won’t be able to compute it in your ATS algorithms. The only way to find wise people is to burn the calories to seek them out in person. In addition, you need to train your headhunters, hiring managers, talent scouts and HR personnel to recognize when those with wisdom are knocking on your door, being blindly rejected by your ATS software or sitting directly across from you. The worst that can happen is to pass on these candidates and have them work for your competition.

Well, maybe it won’t be a complete loss if you gain wisdom from the experience.