Knowledge versus Wisdom

They say that you can get and take a pill for just about anything. And it seems our advanced society has figured out how to package even basic knowledge in pill form. A student, needing some learning, goes to the pharmacy and asks what kinds of knowledge pills are available. 

The pharmacist says: "Here's a pill for English literature." The student takes the pill and swallows it and has new knowledge about English literature.

"What else do you have?" asks the student. 

"Well I have pills for art history, biology, and world history," replies the pharmacist. The student asks for these, and swallows them and has new knowledge about those subjects.

Then the student asks, "Do you have a pill for math?" 

The pharmacist says, "Wait just a moment," goes back to the storeroom, brings back a whopper of a pill, and plonks it on the counter. "I have to take that huge pill for math?" inquires the student. 

The pharmacist replies, "Well you know math always was a little hard to swallow." 

As CMAs, we have acquired the academic elements of accounting, management and strategy and understand how they inter-relate to optimize performance in organizations. 

While our CMA designation is a great accomplishment, it is only one input into becoming a leader. Let’s consider another leadership essential - wisdom. 

Allow me to tell you a story about a great leader from many years ago. His name was Solomon. When Solomon was made a king, at a very young age, he prayed for the following: “Give me now wisdom that I may go out and come in before this people: for who can judge these people that is so great?” 


The story is told then that two new mothers approached King Solomon, bringing with them a single baby boy. Each mother presents the same story, as she and the other woman live together: 

One night, soon after the birth of their respective children, the other woman woke to find that she had smothered her own baby in her sleep. In anguish and jealousy, she took her dead son and exchanged it with the other's child. The following morning, the woman discovered the dead baby, and soon realized that it was not her own son, but the other woman's. 

After some deliberation, King Solomon calls for a sword to be brought before him. He declares that there is only one fair solution: the live son must be split in two, each woman receiving half of the child. Upon hearing this terrible verdict, the boy's true mother cries out, "Please, my King, give her the live child - do not kill him!" However, the liar, in her bitter jealousy, exclaims, "It shall be neither mine nor yours - divide it!" Solomon instantly gives the baby to the real mother, realizing that the true mother's instincts were to protect her child, while the liar revealed that she did not truly love the child. 

Solomon by his wisdom discerned who the real mother was and protected and safeguarded the child. 

We are told that since Solomon asked for wisdom and not fame and fortune, he was given the latter as well so that he became wealthier than one could imagine and famous among country leaders for his leadership (characterized by his wisdom). 

Wikipedia describes wisdom as: The judicious and purposeful application of knowledge that is valued in society. Webster's New World Dictionary defines wisdom in the following way: The power of judging rightly and following the soundest course of action, based on knowledge, experience and understanding. 

We meet people every day who have obtained multiple degrees and multiple designations and who boast about their education. How often though do we find that those with this superior education lack the ability to apply it properly and as a result, would never be considered wise. In contrast, we have met many with limited education, but because of their insight and experience (a form of knowledge) have proven to be wise in their counsel. 


After we receive a degree and/or a designation like the CMA, the world looks on us differently. But how they see us is our choice. We can choose to be one who simply has a lot of knowledge or we can choose to be one who is valued in society for our purposeful application and use of knowledge: that is called wisdom. 

A Chinese saying goes as follows: Teachers open the door - you enter by your self. 


On a trip to India I had a chance to visit a memorial to Gandhi, one of the world’s great leaders. I was struck by his wise teachings and counsel. His words of wisdom to all of us are striking. 

“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty. The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.” 

With that he wrote Ten Life Changing Principles. Consider these five. 

1. Change yourself.
“You must be the change you want to see in the world.” 

2. Forgive and let it go.
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” 

3. Without action you aren’t going anywhere.
“An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.” 

4. Be congruent, be authentic, be your true self.
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” 

5. Continue to grow and evolve (go through the door of opportunity).
”Constant development is the law of life, and a man/woman who always tries to maintain his dogmas in order to appear consistent drives himself into a false position.” 

And he had other sayings as well: 

You are in control.
“Nobody can hurt me without my permission.” 

Take care of this moment.
“I do not want to foresee the future. I am concerned with taking care of the present. God has given me no control over the moment following.” 

Everyone is human.
“I claim to be a simple individual liable to err like any other fellow mortal. I own, however, that I have humility enough to confess my errors and to retrace my steps.” 

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” 

See the good in people and help them.
“I look only to the good qualities of men. Not being faultless myself, I won’t presume to probe into the faults of others.” 

I am not and will never be impressed by anyone who holds out their degrees and designations as a comparator of self worth, ability, influence or expertise on a particular matter. What does impress me are those that have obtained knowledge, and through experience have learned how that knowledge can be used properly for good, then obtains understanding and becomes wise in counsel and advice to others whether in a professional or personal setting. 

How would we assess ourselves? A person of knowledge or a person of wisdom?