To understand the true nature of wisdom, study positive deviants

By Michael McCauley The January 19, 2009 issue of Newsweek has an interesting article on wisdom, “Don’t Forget the Owls.” Several researchers in fields ranging from neuroscience to art, music, and law have recently received more that $2.7 million in grants to figure out what wisdom really is. The 38 approved proposals, conducted under the auspices of the University of Chicago, will focus on finding wisdom in such diverse areas as computer algorithms, classical literature, pheromones, and ant colonies. Why look in such unusual places? The program’s directors, John Cacioppo and Howard Nusbaum say, “We’re trying to think out of the box.” Surprisingly, this far-reaching study won’t be studying the wisdom of positive deviants, those individuals who perform far above the norm in their areas of expertise. It seems only logical that, if you want to understand what wisdom is, you would study the people who have been most successful at doing whatever it is they do. The very definition of a positive deviant implies that they possess significant wisdom. That’s why, in order for an organization to make any significant changes to its culture, it must work with its positive deviants. Determining what they are doing differently from everyone else – the keys to their success –  is the first step to positive organizational change. The study of the insect world and the arts may yield new insights as to the nature of wisdom, but academia should also study the positive deviants, a huge source of wisdom in our world.]]>

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