There is a meme making the rounds on Facebook lately. It illustrates the difference between wisdom and knowledge using tomatoes: “Knowledge is the knowing that the tomato is a fruit; wisdom is knowing not to put a tomato into a fruit salad.”
I got to thinking about this a few weeks ago when the Girl Scouts were camped out in front of the local Kroger. Way back when I was a store manager, I authorized the local school to hold a bake sale in front of my store on a Saturday afternoon. They were there all of four hours, and I even bought a couple of cookies myself.
Everything was fine until my District Manager showed up. Seeing him on a Saturday was odd enough – and looking back – was probably why he was cranky. But he got all worked up about the bake sale going on in front of the store.
“Why the hell would you let a competitor take prime real estate in front of your store and steal your sales?” Yes, he actually said, or words to that effect. I remember the tone more than the actual words he used.
Back to wisdom vs. knowledge. I understood then, and still do, that – technically speaking – a bake sale was competing with my own store’s service bakery. But I also understood that allowing it was providing benefits far beyond the few dollars in sales I may have lost. The local goodwill, the gratitude from the local school who sponsored the sale, and the overall atmosphere were such that I considered any sales cost an investment.
My D.M. didn’t get it. He was “old school” before that was a thing, and he couldn’t grasp my point of view at all. He wasn’t rude enough to make them move, but he did reference it in my annual review. Whatever.
The point is that running a business – any business – requires knowledge as well as wisdom. It’s knowing what to do, and what not to do, and when to do it. But it’s also being open to alternative thinking and looking at the bigger picture, especially when that picture is hard to see.
Wisdom isn’t knowing the answer; it’s knowing that we all have more to learn, no matter how smart we think we are. In the words of John Maynard Keynes, “When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do?”