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  • Writer's pictureDr. Christine Senn, PhD

Character Strengths: Wisdom & Knowledge

Updated: Jun 2, 2022

Last time we talked about the virtue of Transcendence, which I personally did not think was going to apply to business. And now we have one that sounds like it would, but I'm not so sure about it. I would love to hear your thoughts. This virtue is called Wisdom and Knowledge. They both sound like great things and they are indeed. But how do we apply them to business? So, what I'd like to do with you is name off the 5 character strengths that are part of this virtue and see which one – if you were looking at jobs in general and not a specific industry – you think would stand out as the most important quality for a person to have. You might think it's all five, but let's pick one. I picked one. We'll see if we match. So, the 5 are creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, and perspective. And by the way, they did note that they wanted to call ‘perspective’ wisdom, except they called the virtue wisdom. You can think about perspective in that way. It's like having a more sage/wise perspective on things. I think something that will help as we decide which we would hire for is to talk about the non-felicitous opposites of each one. So, which of these would you hire for?

The opposite of creativity is “monotonous, unimaginative, uninspired.” I could see lots of jobs where it's not necessary to be inspired or to do something particularly non-monotonous. There are many jobs that require some monotony to them and, frankly, those who are very strategic-thinking or free-flowing in their minds very much need people who are more able to stick with a pattern, a little more rigid, follow the rules, things like that. So, I wouldn't personally hire for creativity unless I was looking at a specifically creative job, then obviously you'd be looking at work samples. But as a character strength, I don't know that originality is something that is definitely necessary, although it can be very much a value added when it comes to certain jobs.

The next one is curiosity. The opposite of that is “disinterest, boredom, ennui.” Now, again, if I was hiring for a job, I don't know that curiosity would be more to me than just a nice thing to have. It's always very cool to me when someone says, “Could you tell me why we do this process? I just want to make sure I understand its purpose.” That's curiosity and I think that’s amazing, but it certainly isn't necessary. It does, I think, help people make better decisions later on. But largely, for most jobs I don't personally think that it's that necessary. This is probably going to be one most people will likely disagree with me on.

I'm going to save my favorite for last, so you'll know I'm already skipping over it. So, love of learning is of course important in general to learn your job. The opposite is “intellectual resistance,” which is a little different, right? But if you're hiring and the person has the skillset for the job, then having a love of learning is really not necessary as long as they're competent to do the job. It could be nice to have and you don't really want ‘intellectual resistance’ as they call it, but it isn't necessarily the case that everyone needs to keep aspiring to know even more in that field. Maybe there is nothing more to learn in that field too, depending on what the field is.

The last one: perspective or wisdom (or the last one that I'm not hiring for). The opposite of that is “thoughtlessness, foolishness.” I mean, that's an extreme. Obviously, you don’t want to be a fool. You're not trying to hire a fool. But this is a little bit more about having a perspective where you can see that there's a wisdom in how other people do things; take the perspective where you can step back and look at it and not be so closed-minded perhaps as part of it. It's the long view of looking at the world and the way things happen together.

By the way, according to this, it is more trait-like. It is not something that we necessarily develop with age, although we can get better at it and hone this as a character strength. That's fascinating, right? We think of wisdom as something that comes with age and it turns out, based on research, to be more of a trait. So even young people have it to some extent. So, I can no longer say that my gray hair makes me wise. Apparently, that's just me making stuff up.

So let me tell you the one I would absolutely, positively want to hire for every single job, no matter what it was. It is open-mindedness, and they call this “judgment or critical thinking.” The other synonyms for it are “flexible, broad-minded, complex.” And what I love about this is that they say that the benefit of being open-minded and thinking critically is not necessarily the conclusion a person reaches – it's the thought process they put into reaching that conclusion. Which is why you can have respect for a person and disagree with their decisions, right? Because they put a lot of thought into it; they've critically analyzed it; they may have used different data. (I know that that's probably a hard thing to say in science, but there's a lot of ways to look at data.)

I'm highly scientific in my thinking, but you can get a new perspective; you can do different things to hear from new people. In marketing, we do a lot of focus groups. Focus groups can give you a different perspective than your marketing experts have. Bringing that all together is an open-minded way of looking at things that can get you to different conclusions than you had when you left out either the administrators, or the strategists, or the focus groups.

So, I love open-mindedness. I will read you the opposite of it and I think you'll see even more why I love it. The opposite of open-minded is “inflexibility, rigidity, intolerance, prejudice, dogmatism.” Well, none of those are going to help your projects grow, your company grow, or your people grow. So that's the one I'm voting for.

I would love to hear from you, and we'll see you in a few weeks! Bye!

Further Reading:  

Character Strengths and Virtues by Drs. Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman (2004)

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