Book Review of Wisdom, Analytics and Wicked Problems

Wisdom, Analytics and Wicked Problems: Integral Decision Making for the Data Age by Ali Intezari and David Pauleen, 2019. Routledge.

I’m not sure what prompted me in 1994 to suggest we needed to go beyond teaching about computers and information systems and be teaching wisdom (Farrell, 2019). There wasn’t much support for the idea and, except for one colleague, no one I knew at the time expressed any interest. Things have changed over the last twenty-five years and now calls are common for wisdom to be included in management education. The latest resource exploring this area is this excellent book on practical wisdom for today’s managers and leaders by Ali Intezari and David Pauleen.

Book Review of Wisdom, Analytics and Wicked Problems

There is perhaps nothing more important for orienting and conducting human affairs than wisdom.
– Eric H. Kessler

Having been involved with computing since the 1960’s I was well aware that the so-called “electronic brains”, as they were often referred to, have no overall purpose in mind; they are simply logic machines executing programmed instructions.

Individuals and communities have much more flexibility. They can use any amount of data, information and knowledge in various ways to produce either wise or unwise outcomes.

The outcome from wisdom in management is success or better living for all; what Bierly et al. (2000) describe as “embodiment of action taken to transform self and society towards a better whole”. Sternberg (1998) and others refer to the “common good” as the outcome of wisdom.

Intezari and Pauleen have made a valuable contribution to management literature with this new book on wise decision making. Their aim is to “provide an integral and practical framework for incorporating wisdom into business and management practices in both the private and public sectors.”

The authors have achieved this aim because they are part of a small group of scholars around the world who are focused on incorporating wisdom in the curriculum of business studies. The members of this group include the pioneers in organizational and management studies of wisdom, David Rooney and Bernard McKenna, as well as Wendelin Küpers and others.

A large part of this work comes from Ali Intezari’s doctoral dissertation (Intezari, 2013). David Pauleen has been involved in this field since the early 2000’s and was Intezari’s PhD supervisor. Both are currently with the Management Analytics and Decision Making Research Group at Massey University, New Zealand.

The main content of the book is organised into three parts, each of three chapters.

In Part I the concept of wisdom is explored as well as the challenges we are facing in the 21st Century. This is a valuable contribution in its own right because it means in one book there is a comprehensive narrative covering centuries of Western thought on the importance and make-up of wisdom. It demonstrates the depth of the scholarship of the authors in their citing of 261 papers and books in the process of developing their case for a decision-making framework. For example, the publications on wisdom analysed in Chapter 1 range from the writings of Aristotle and Aquinas and other philosophers through the ages to the modern-day psychologists, such as Robert Sternberg and the late Paul Baltes.

This chapter alone would make this book a worthwhile addition for anyone starting out to explore the concept of wisdom because it would take months, if not years, of study to explore this ground.

It’s only in the last two decades that serious attention has been given to wisdom in management. However organizational and management scholars have no consensus on a definition of wisdom. After tabling some 47 different definitions, the authors offer their definition of wisdom in management as being:

. . . the professional manager’s capacity to critically and accurately assess self, others, and the decision situation, and to integrate personal and communal knowledge and values into decisions and actions, in order to achieve the well-being of all involved, over both the short and long term.

While not suggesting the other 47 are unhelpful, this is a helpful definition, especially when including the “well-being of all involved” and the need to look at the consequences of decisions and actions over the long term. For one, renowned primatologist and conservationist Dr Jane Goodall laments our lack of wisdom today:

We’ve lost wisdom. Wisdom was making decisions on how will this affect our people generations ahead. Now people don’t seem to care about generations in the future. It’s all about making money, struggling to live if you’re very poor, taking more than you should if you’re not very poor. And making money – the bottom line – making shareholders money – the next political campaign – me – now!

In Part II the authors go beyond the scope of philosophy and psychology in the discussion of wisdom and explore the DIKW (data-information-knowledge-wisdom) hierarchy and identify the problem when it comes to the jump from knowledge to wisdom. This is followed by an overview of the trend to use big data and analytics in decision making and again discussing their application and limitations.

The authors then go on to review the management decision-making process in some depth. Part II is a valuable resource because of its broad scope and because of its currency in the coverage of big data and analytics.

Part III explores wisdom in the management context, including inputs from practicing managers. A wise management decision occurs when “the decision . . . achieves the right ends using the right means at the right time.” The authors identify nine interrelated aspects for wisdom in management. These nine aspects are the basis for the four principles that make up the framework for making effective decisions in complex decision situations. This is not the only integrated practical wisdom model in existence, however it is one that is based on empirical research.

So how does one go about using this framework for wise management decisions? The answer is built into the framework itself: make decisions and reflect on them. It is a long-term learning process, as the authors explain:

[T]he conscientious practice of wise management decision making is itself a path to becoming wiser. By regularly and consistently incorporating the wisdom principles into the decision-making process, the principles become ingrained and embodied. . . Our study of management wisdom shows that reflection plays a critical role in wise management practice.”

The question then arises, how can one teach wisdom based on the framework? Can wisdom be taught, anyway? This goes unanswered in the book and, to be fair, it was not the aim. This is a matter for business faculty members to explore.

Finally, it should be noted that the book is well set out, with clear diagrams and extensive use of tables. The ebook edition also includes hyperlinks for ease of movement throughout the text.

This book will be of most interest to business students and professionals, business faculty course developers and management consultants. It would be a worthwhile addition to every business school library.

References

Bierly III, P. E., Kessler. E. H., & Christensen. E. W. (2000). Organizational learning, knowledge and wisdom. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 13(6), 595-618.

Farrell, A. (2019). Knowledge Visualization – Evolution of the Can-Do Wisdom Framework [Blog post]. https://candowisdom.com/decision-making/knowledge-visualization-example.

Goodall, Jane. (2014, September 9). Jennifer Byrne Presents [Television series episode]. In The Book Club, Sydney, New South Wales: ABC, http://www.abc.net.au/tv/firsttuesday/s4080363.htm.

Intezari, A. (2013). Wisdom and Decision Making: Grounding Theory in Management Practice, A dissertation presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Management at Massey University, Albany, Auckland, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://mro.massey.ac.nz/handle/10179/5374.

Kessler, E. H. and J. R. Bailey. (2007). Handbook of Organizational and Managerial Wisdom. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, xvii.

Sternberg, R. J. (1998). A balance theory of wisdom. Review of General Psychology 2(4), 347-365.

About the author

Adrian Farrell is a retired electronics engineer, corporate executive, management consultant and university lecturer. Now a regular blogger, he is a Fellow of the Institute of Managers and Leaders Australia and New Zealand.

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