Some recent events have caused me to question how the general population thinks about intelligence and how our leaders think about talent management and employee engagement. An IBM computer named Watson recently appeared on Jeopardy pitted against two very successful human Jeopardy contestants. Watson very successfully demonstrated “his” superior “knowledge” after two days of competition but, was it really “knowledge?” I don’t think so.
Watson is a question and answer machine. Although Jeopardy requires speedy recall of facts and the ability to untangle a variety of thoughts simultaneously, it essentially is a contest between brains that are like encyclopedias. The more facts you know, the faster you press the button, the more you win. The more information one can retain and regurgitate the more money one can win on Jeopardy. Watson doesn’t understand the information; it only processes it quickly according to a software program.
This is the thought that gave me pause. I keep getting the impression that we have this assumption that the skill of regurgitating facts is an indication of intelligence. This is wrong. Leaders with facts only are passé and useless in our economy. We must be clear about the definition of intelligence. What creates intelligence in our new economy?
There are three levels of understanding.
Level 1: Information
Informationis raw data that is verified accurate, timely, has a purpose, and is presented within a context that gives it meaning and relevance. A good example is the internet. One can do a search on anything on the internet and receive numerous “hits” explaining or clarifying the search item. Watson is in level one. He is able to understand human verbal input but ultimately he really just processes the request and delivers the “right” answer from his database via a brilliant software package. Watson is Google on steroids.
Level 2: Knowledge
Knowledge requires the processing of information to make a prediction. The prediction, if it comes true, represents knowledge. A chart of ocean tides represents knowledge because it makes a prediction about when high tide will occur. The theory is based on the movement of the Moon in relationship to the Earth.
Leaders/managers must accept responsibility for predicting the outcomes of processes under their supervision. Leaders/managers must be able to predict their outcomes and so their decisions must be based on knowledge. Leaders/managers must appreciate the difference between knowledge and information. Without knowledge, a leader/manager’s world remains as chaotic reaction to solve problems instead of strategic proactive action to prevent them. Continuously accumulating knowledge helps leaders to manage costs and improve customer satisfaction.
Level 3: Wisdom
Wisdom is a deep understanding of people, things, events or situations, allowing someone to take action and consistently produce the optimum results with a minimum of time and energy. Wisdom is the ability to optimally (effectively and efficiently) and consistently apply knowledge to produce desired results. Wisdom allows one to share knowledge with others to make significant contributions to society including solving social ills or optimizing community resources. Wisdom is a high level of accumulated knowledge. It can often manifest as a “gut feeling” based on a combination of complex factors but it is steeped in knowledge.
Our economy is now “brain-based” rather than “labor-based.” While few managers would dispute that we are living in the Information Age, many leaders are still thinking and employing management tools developed during the evolution of the Industrial Revolution, the era when machine-driven economies were the rule.
The complexity of the new “brain-based” competitive world (vs. the labor-based) requires continuous knowledge exchange among its employees; the expansion of competition into a global economy has created the need for leaders and employees to be fully engaged and to understand how to adapt more quickly to trends and techniques which may develop half a world away.
Regurgitating facts is not one of those skills that enable us to adapt to change. The key asset of successful firms resides inside the brains of their employees and their freedom to use their brains to increase knowledge and wisdom, not just process information. Successful firms require diverse and continuously evolving skills and the most important of which is the ability to work with people to help them synergize information, diverse opinions to generate knowledge.
One necessary outcome of this trend is reduced interchangeability. Therefore, employee turnover has to be reduced to a minimum to protect the knowledge inside the heads of these highly skilled employees. This means engagement is more important than ever to keep turnover low. Workers that walk out the door take company knowledge that may never be recovered.
The flow of information is not enough. The flow of facts through a fast and sophisticated computer is not enough to make us successful. Watson can’t create new ideas. Watson can’t synergize. Only humans can problem solve and be creative and synergize with each other.
My fear is we still consider quick regurgitation of facts as intelligence. Many firms are adopting a talent management approach for improving results. Let’s hope the criterion is not just the ability to regurgitate facts or I.Q. (intelligence quotient). Let’s hope it also the ability to work with people to synergize diverse views. Let’s hope it includes the ability to build trust and relationships and create cultures of engagement that accumulate knowledge.
Malcolm Gladwell, in his article “The Talent Myth” (New Yorker Magazine, July 22, 2002) points out there is no correlation between I.Q. and job performance. Other factors are more important such as the ability to manage yourself and your emotions, your ability to maneuver through complex social situations, and the ability to bring people together to synergize to accumulate knowledge.
Watson does not have knowledge and “he” certainly does not have wisdom. Let’s stop calling “fact regurgitation” intelligence. It is merely a sophisticated and speedy way to deliver information. Only humans who cooperate and understand the right theories can fully utilize information to create knowledge and accumulate wisdom. An environment that allows for the accumulation of knowledge will be “employee engagement friendly.” Only leaders with wisdom can create these environments. Leaders with facts only are passé and useless in this new economy.
Wally Hauck holds a doctorate in organizational leadership from Warren National University, a Master of Business Administration in finance from Iona College, and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania. He is a Certified Speaking Professional and for 15 years his consulting firm, Optimum Leadership, has consulted with dozens of organizations and coached hundreds of individuals in improving leadership skills to boost employee engagement and performance.