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Wisdom Apprentices

by Gerry McGovern
Author, New Thinking

Since the invention of writing, there has been a process which has involved the transfer of knowledge from the oral and practical to the written form. The Internet has contributed to a significant speeding up of this process. While this process has undoubted benefits, it must be recognised that there are limitations - that there is a certain type of knowledge that is still more effectively transferred by oral and practical means.

Historically, knowledge and skills were learned in the seeing, listening and doing. The world was full of apprentices. Babies were - and still are - the greatest apprentices. A baby doesn't learn to walk by reading a manual. A baby doesn't learn to talk by cramming in a language course. A baby doesn't go to the Internet to hone their social skills. No, the baby takes a long apprenticeship from their parents and those around them. They learn by living, by playing, by imitating, by doing, by trial and error.

Today we are busy inventing impressive sounding terms for the things we always took for granted. We have Relationship Marketing and Knowledge Management. With the way some of these models are being presented, you would swear that they were some new invention. Rather, they are an attempt to fill a hole with technology and techniques that the modern world has dug.

In the past, all good companies practised relationship marketing, in that they looked after their customers. The sales representatives called, the managing director rang, valued customers were brought out to dinner, Christmas gifts were delivered. Relationship marketing was very much part of business. In the last twenty years, we all fell in love with the promise of the computer, the automation of things, the saving of costs and the making of greater profits. This has worked well up to a point. Except that we now find that there is a widening distance between the customer and the company, that customer loyalty is weakening. Thus we invent relationship marketing and Customer Relationship Management. But these approaches have very little to do with relationships. Rather, they are about using technology to feign relationships.

Historically, companies renewed and passed on their essential knowledge base through a system of apprenticeships. Young people came into companies and learned trades and skills through working with those who had experience. Yes, they read books and manuals, but where they truly gathered knowledge was by doing the thing along with an expert.

From what I can observe, this whole apprenticeship system is breaking down. In fact, within the technology industry, it seems to have never have taken much root. The interesting problem there is that young people often have greater technical knowledge than older people, because so many computer languages and tools are themselves new.

We have a problem.

Knowledge is more than knowing something technical. Knowledge needs wisdom, and wisdom comes with age and experience. Wisdom is about knowing how something technical can be best used to meet the needs of people. Wisdom comes from living. Wisdom creates software that is useful, rather than technically brilliant. Wisdom creates a website that understands the needs of the person that uses the website, rather than a website that is an ego-boost for its creator.

We need more wisdom apprentices in the world. We need to re-focus on people as fonts of wisdom and knowledge, and not fall prey to the latest illusory school of 'Wisdom Management.'

� Gerry McGovern, New Thinking. All rights reserved.

Gerry McGovern is the author of New Thinking, a weekly column which has received numerous accolades and a book, THE CARING ECONOMY

The Caring Economy
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The Caring Economy, by Gerry McGovern, is published by Blackhall Publishing of 26 Eustace Street, Dublin 2, Ireland. ISBN 1-901657-61-2 Price _27.50 or US$35.95
Email: [email protected]

It is also available in the United States from Irish Books & Media, 1433 East Franklin Avenue, MN, USA 55404-2135. Call toll-free: 1-800-229-3505.

Email Gerry McGovern at [email protected]
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