We Need Your Ideas!

Many people have challenged the use of GNP as a measure of societal success and some useful attempts have been made to develop a Human Development Index (HDI) and Happiness Indices (HI), or State of the Future Index (SOFI). In a recent article (Integral Leadership Review Volume VIII, No. 5 – October 2008 and at The Wisdom Page) I suggested that the world would benefit from a Wise Society Index (WSI).

But what could go into such an index? What could we try to measure? And how could it actually be measured?

I am conducting ‘brainstorming’ sessions on our Masters programmes concerned with Leadership to see where we might start with such an exercise. I would suggest it would be a valuable exercise for many, if not all, leadership programmes and, perhaps, we could all share the results.

In addition to the above I thought it would be useful to undertake this exercise through other networks.

So what are your suggestions? What should we try to measure in a Wise Society Index and how could we go about trying to measure it?

Obviously there are no perfect answers, and the whole process should be dynamic, but I will put together replies and then circulate them for further discussion.

Dr Bruce Lloyd

Emeritus Professor of Strategic Management, Brucelloydg@aol.com


Please share your thoughts in the box below.


11 Responses to “We Need Your Ideas!”

  1. S.V.Anbazhagan Says:

    Wisdom to thrive, its attribution to a person may have to be done away with. It must be seen with reference to the context and in the decision made.

    The balance,that is the equillibrium ahieved and the beneficiary of benefit must be taken into account.

    A society which provides room for many views may be seen as promoting wisdom.

    Whether any age old issues still remain unresolved may reflect the wisdom level of the society.

  2. Rory McEntee Says:

    I think a good, and true, measure of our society’s “wisdom”, or at times lack there of, can be seen in the people who are elected to run our government. How to measure this is not easy, but perhaps some measurement of how the government is functioning. When wise people are elected, compromise, depth, and pragmatism can result. However, when wisdom in the society as a whole is lacking, it will be evident in the people who are elected. The political understandings we forge as a society are a direct reflection of our wisdom as a whole.

  3. David Paterson Says:

    I am not a wise person, so my thoughts should not be considered important, but I find the concept of a wisdom index intriguing. St Augustine divided intelligence into two parts: wisdom, or “sapentia,” which is timeless and eternal, and science “scientia,” which is knowledge of the material world. The book “A Handbook of Wisdom” has in chapter 1 a list of 15 different definitions of wisdom. That may be a good starting point. But on the other hand …

    IMHO one essential component of wisdom that is missing from all those definitions is “inner peace”. There are other components of wisdom. A morality that is as inclusive as possible, includes all people and all religions, all nations, all animals, all plants. i.e. people must be “good” as opposed to “selfish”. Goodness is measured by actions and not just thoughts, primarily by actions. A third component is truth. Wise people must be able to instinctively distinguish between truth and fiction/bullshit/hype/peer-group-pressure. Wise people will actively seek out the truth.

    Is that enough? Wisdom = inner peace + goodness + truth_detection.

    All three components can be measured independently, and then could be added to make a wisdom index.

    Goodness and truth_detection are combined in justice, but the judicial system alone would not be a good enough measure because so few people are directly involved in it.

    Countries like Nigeria and India should score low on the wisdom index because of their rejection of health reforms (failure on the goodness component) resulting in excessively many diseases at a national level. It could even be claimed that most if not all morality is based on health.

  4. Saurabh Diwaker Says:

    I think wisdom can not be defined in a few words. It differs according to the criteria by which you are measuring it. I think wisdom is not knowledge, but using our knowledge wisely, using our life experiences to make right decisions.
    So if we talk about wisdom, then first we should fix our criteria for what kind of persons we are looking for, and then we have to use our own wisdom to unite people and make them help us in changing world or whatsoever we want from them.

  5. mercerd Says:

    interesting material, where such topics do you find? I will often go

  6. S.V.Anbazhagan Says:

    On thinking again on WSI, it appears to me that defining ‘society’ for this purpose may be a primary requirement.
    A society must be geographically distinct, measurable, specifiable.
    The societies must be comparable size.
    A society must be big enough for analysis, and small enough for understaanding.
    It appears that keeing ‘nation’ as a unit of society would serve little purpose because of the hugeness.


  7. J. Dickinson Says:

    I can’t think of a more important project than devising a Wise Society Index. Just thinking about it has focused my mind to an extraordinary degree. I sincerely believe that Dr. Lloyd has asked the most significant question of the 20th (and now 21st) century. Am I engaging in hyperbole? I don’t think so, because I have been working in a similar vein for decades now, and it wasn’t until I discovered his challenge that I finally saw how close I was to the light at the end of the tunnel.

    Anyone who can’t see that Dr. Lloyd’s question is the most important question asked in over a hundred years, needs to think about the question some more. The world is spectacularly failing to exhibit behaviors one would expect from a wise society.

    The question has an incredible capacity to focus the mind. The answer, though, is rather complex. The thing that first struck me is that if we constructed an index based on a combination of the concepts of wisdom and categories of knowledge that are required for mankind to be able to survive as a species, we actually could construct such an index. I’m certain I know exactly how to begin constructing an index based on that criteria. But contributions from like-minded individuals would be an absolute necessity.

    After gathering and sorting the material, of course (as well as reaching some kind of consensus) a series of questionnaires would then have to be devised in order to test people on the material. Then by gathering random samples of the population and giving them the test, we could get a pretty good idea of the level of wisdom of a given society. But remember, I’m basing my Index, tentatively, on the criteria of precisely what concepts of wisdom and categories of knowledge are required for mankind to be able to survive as a species. That’s a very high bar. And that’s exactly my point.

    If we use that as a criteria, I’m afraid that all we would find out is something that many people already fear: That there is no society on Earth that would score very high on such a scale.

    The people who would score high would be just a handful in a given society. In other words, for the index to have any relevancy, there would have to be various levels to it. If the test couldn’t identify that small handful, what good would it be? I believe I could begin constructing a pretty useful index based on the criteria I have stated. But most people would score close to zero on it.

    Still, I think my criteria would be more fair than might be apparent at first glance. And what use would the index be to us if we tried to “dumb it down” so that everyone would look better? The only solution I can see to this problem is that the index would have to consider different levels of wisdom. For example, ethnocentricity (biased misperceptions of cultures other than one’s own) would be a core concept in any Wise Society Index. Questions could obviously be worded to get a sense of a person’s degree of ethnocentricity. We could call that level one.

    Ethnocentricity is a problem that any system of wisdom that’s worth its salt should be able to address and even offer an approach toward solving. So someone who gets high marks on the ethnocentricity scale (meaning they are relatively fair when evaluating other cultures), still might not have many ideas about how to solve the *problem* of ethnocentricity. We would, therefore, have to devise questions that would also test whether a person had practical and reasonable approaches to solving the problem of ethnocentricity. People who scored well on those kinds of question would naturally show a higher level of wisdom than those who didn’t. If we couldn’t measure that, then it would represent a terrible flaw, a weakness, in our index.

    The point I’m trying to make is that “dumbing down” the scale would be a huge mistake, because the accumulated results would not be very helpful. I think the bar needs to be raised very high from the start. This would not be an attempt to “flunk the whole class”. It would be an attempt to measure wisdom on many levels, low wisdom, common wisdom, high wisdom, and extraordinary wisdom, etc. But how could we even decide on such levels if we could not first decide on how to measure the very highest level? We couldn’t.

    Therefore the starting point would be to first assemble the criteria for the highest level. And believe it or not, I don’t think that would be as difficult as it might seem. In fact, I think it might be the easiest part of the project. I believe I could work up an outline that would make a good starting point, and probably within a few weeks.

    But back to the core concept of ethnocentricity. A person who is taking the Wise Society Index test, who is able to look at a given situation—say, the problem between Israelis and Palestinians—and answer questions about the problem of ethnocentricity which show that they are not only aware of the problem but are also able to offer practical, reasonable, constructive approaches to solving the problem; such a person would score very high indeed. But this reality also presents us with a difficulty.

    Anyone who has the ability to score highly in this kind of situation would definitely deserve to have their ability measured and figured into the final score. No doubt about it. Otherwise they would be shortchanged by the test results.

    But let’s say that we asked test takers before hand specifically which issues they knew something about. If a test taker knew something about civil rights issues in the United States, then they could be given a test on that subject rather than on the problem between Israelis and Palestinians. People who knew something about the Israeli-Palestinian problem could take a test on that.

    This way we would could get an idea of how a person was able to *apply* wisdom to a given situation. They could hardly apply it to a situation they knew nothing about.

    Then again, maybe they could first be given some pertinent data about a specific situation and then asked to apply wisdom to it. Maybe they don’t know much about the Israeli-Palestinian problem, but the testers could supply them with specific data on the problem and ask what their proposed solutions might be. That would be one way of trying to sort wisdom *acquired* from wisdom *applied*.

    Now to the general idea of a Wise Society Index:

    Coming up with a Wise Society Index would therefore be an enormous challenge. But if we don’t first raise the bar to the absolute top, and then, after that, decide what the lower levels are, then the index runs the risk of being irrelevant. This brings me to what I think would be the strengths and limitations of such an index.

    If we developed an index that would satisfy the stringent requirements of science (accuracy and repeatability), I’m afraid the index would be so “dumbed down” as to be virtually irrelevant. And if we developed an index that would be of the highest possible relevance, I’m afraid that it would be criticized as unscientific (having too broad a margin for error, and producing widely varying results depending on who administered the test). But I think the latter would be a far better state of affairs than the former.

    To sum up, this is what I believe:

    Whether or not we can actually succeed at devising a Wise Society Index with the kind of accuracy expected of science, we absolutely *must* try.

    There is a universal and very ancient concept of wisdom that says that what one learns in pursuit of a goal is often more important than what is gained by actually achieving the goal. I can’t think of a worthier goal or one that that statement would be more true of.

    I hope a useful index can be achieved, even though I’m not sure an index of this kind would ever satisfy everyone. But I think we absolutely must make the attempt. What we stand to learn in the process may be of much greater value that the index itself could ever be. And mankind may not survive unless we start now!

    Judging by the current state of affairs of mankind on this planet, I believe such an index would be more important than taking a trip to Mars, finding a superconducting material for power lines, or even finding a cure for cancer.

    I honestly believe that.

    And this is exactly the goal I’ve been working toward for years now. But it wasn’t until I discovered Dr. Lloyd’s challenge that I finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel. And it’s not an oncoming train; it’s a ray of hope; a chance for the human race to avoid self-destruction.

    Bravo, Dr. Lloyd! Your challenge has focused my mind like a laser beam.

    J. Dickinson

  8. bruce Says:




    I apologise for the delay in replying to the comments generated on the Wisdom Page site over the Wise Society Index. Unfortunately it has been a particularly hectic summer. I would now add the following.

    Rory (16/05). It is important to recognise that the only way to measure a Wise Society is through actions. Everyone from politicians, to anyone involved in decision-making, is concerned with whether or not the decision that they are taking is Wise. It is certainly not just words, although the gap between words and action may be worth tracking?

    David (12/6). I am not sure whether the US would come on in the context of health reforms? In general I would not expect there to be any direct correlation between materially wealthy societies and those we might consider Wise?

    A very useful and thoughtful contribution from John (5/08), and his comments on World War 1 raise a couple of points:

    1. It shows how relatively small issues can have far reaching, unforeseen, consequences, which leads onto a couple of other points: a) It is essential that we have as much Wisdom as possible in all the decisions we take, as we are never going to have perfect foresight about how decisions taken now are going to impact on the future; and b) the more we are aware of the possible consequences of our actions, the greater the chance (/the higher the probability) that we will take better decisions in the first place. (Would World War 1 have worked out differently had all parties been more aware of the outcome and consequences – surely the answer is Yes?)
    2. Over the past 200 years science has certainly improved the quality of the information we have about a whole range of subjects, but is there any evidence to suggest that we have improved our ability to put this information to good use. Hence the urgent need to give Wisdom, and how we can learn it more effectively, a much higher priority. It may be that Wisdom can only help improve the quality of our discussion of the issues (ie improve the process).
    3. One criteria of a Wise Society might be its ability to hold quality discussions. But how do you measure that? — One measure might be the lack of abuse/respect in the individuals who are putting forward views with which you disagree. Consequently most of the media would not come out very high on any score in this area?

    The only issue I would disagree with is his concept of ethnocentricity. In my ‘research’ on the subject, I have not found Wisdom to be ethnocentric. I have found it (surprisingly?) un-related to the ethnic background of the individuals concerned. Perhaps this should not be surprising as Wisdom is (in my view) based on what works in the relationships between people within a society/organisation, and within the context of the broader issues that provide sustainability and meaning for the individual/society. It would be interesting – and useful – to explore how Wisdom would help – or not? – in trying to resolve issues such as whether, or not, abortion can be accepted as a ‘good’ thing, or not? This is perhaps an extreme test, and my feeling is that it could only help to try to increase the level of respect the opposing view might have for each other, rather than having any ‘magic’ formula that would resolve all the differences. Perhaps all it can do is help reach compromise agreements in certain circumstances?

    John comments on the media and word of mouth (22/08) also need to take account of internet blogs etc, and how these channels are re-connecting with the word of mouth approach. He has produced some very useful guidelines/requirements. But we should not expect to resolve all these points before we start exploring a Wise Society Index. In fact the WSI could easily start by trying to build on other indices now being developed. (ie, Happiness Indices, Human Development Index etc).
    In this context there has (by coincidence?) been quite a bit of activity in this area in recent months. For example, The (Un)happy Planet Index 2.0 from the New Economics Foundation (www.neweconomics.org) and the publicity given to Sarkozy’s support (Forget GDP: Happiness is the secret of success, The Observer 20/09, Business Inside Story p4-5. And Sarkosy strives for measure of happiness, Financial Times 15/09) to the massive 291 page Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress by Stiglitz, Sen and Fitoussi (www.stiglitz-sen-fitoussi.fr), which are developing some of the ideas (although I have not seen any formal link?) in The Canadian Index of Wellbeing: Taking Measures of the Things that Count, by The Hon. Roy. J. Romanow. There are many others. All good contributions to the debate, although they are not overtly discussing the WSI.

    Although it is useful to explore the possible differences between Personal, Governmental and Societal approaches to Wisdom (David’s very thoughtful detailed response). In essence, I would consider that the latter two elements (Governmental and Societal) are simply the sum total of the Personal (Wise or otherwise!) decisions. If the decisions taken by those in Government have a sound base, reflecting a sound personal agenda, then we would expect an improvement in the quality(/Wisdom) in the policy decisions. I liked the Australian example. Perhaps, in one sense, these exercises might be out of date, but their value could be that they help improve the quality of our learning about the characteristics and behaviours that are likely to be (more) successful in the future. All decisions (especially those in Government) are evaluated against some criteria. Also often a key (implicit) factor in appointing people to chair enquires is their ability to at least give the impression that they are Wise individuals.
    I recognise it would be difficult to evaluate the Government & Societal dimensions, but I don’t believe it would be impossible. I would see the Personal, Governmental and Societal dimensions overlapping; although any analysis could be undertaken separately simply as a way of trying to cross check the results and so help improve the process for the future, recognising as the interaction between all these factors is (or should be) a dynamic learning process.

    John, thank you for your latest contribution (31/8). I am particularly concerned about the role of the media in the process of ‘educating’ the public?

  9. S.V.Anbazhagan Says:

    An idea appeared to me:
    The method of calculating the Wise Society Index may desirably be ‘flexible’.
    If I want to calculate the WSI of a village it must be possible; if I want to calculate for an industrial town, it must be possible; if I want to calculate for a city, it must be possible by incorporating appropriate factors. Similarly for calculating for a State and for a nation. Because the calculation in the final analysis must help the target group become better.

    The factors also must undergo change as change keeps taking place. this would help comparison on a time scale and plan further.

    My views may sound more utilitarian than academic. Even if we start with a draft method, implement and realize some good results there would be prospect for further improving the method.

    Sam Anbazhagan

  10. Debbie Payne Says:

    Oh my, I somehow landed here on this page. Bruce I came across one of your papers on leadership and wisdom and was drawn to google a little more.

    My colleague Erna Hagge, founder of Coaching Services at University of BC, and myself have created a practical resource published by Deberna International in Aug 2009 called Tri-namics Power of One, Two, Three: Provocative Questions for Leadership Wisdom. We are located in Vancouver, BC, Canada. The reason I bring this to your attention as we both believe in the power of provocative questions to stimulate deeper dialogue, to make us stop and examine, to shift our mindset, and to delve into topics that give us magical aha’s. As leaders we explore these important questions, we learn to create them ourselves, and we listen humbly and focused. We believe that this questioning can lead us to leadership wisdom- that we will have explored and uncovered our true values that will guide us in decisions and access our inner wisdom. We are taking a very practical hands-on approach person by person to help them help themselves to access their own inner wisdom.

    Your concept of the Wise Society Index is intriguing. I tend to believe that much of the wisdom is unknown, that it is buried within people, walled off and protected. Finding ways to access it, letting people shine. becoming their potential requires parental wisdom, leadership wisdom.

    Some organizations appear to be much wiser than others-they not only state their values, they live their values. Some of the sustainability organizations that are striving to contribute to the health of our planet, that wont use child labour, that use eco-friendly products are some examples. We hear of so many failing, dysfunctional organizations, not happy places, where poor decisions are being made.

    Ive sometimes heard people say “Is it a wise thing to do? No, but it is what seems right to do given the situation” Maybe we need to look beyond situations and make the wise decisions which are for the long term health of us all.

    If one believes that everyone is capable of being a leader in their life then potentially we could all have leadership wisdom. Is it possible to observe one person’s actions and determine if they have wisdom? If it is then we can capture and create a Wisdom Index. Some equate being wise with being a highly spiritual person, evolved some would say.

    In organizations we often hear “we measure what matters” or “We cant improve what we dont measure”. The measurement system does not have to be sophisticated or complete, we need to just start measuring something. As we measure we correct, we create new measures and the measurement system grows. Perhaps this sounds simplistic, however I do think that just starting (taking action) gets us further than discussing it. Perhaps that is why we have developed a practical took to help leaders use provocative quesitions to move them forward in their leadership wisdom journey.

    Thanks for reading my ramble. Im passionate about creating ethical, value-driven wise leaders in our world and you have provided me insight on measuring wisdom that excites and delights.
    Debbie Payne, MA debbie@dpleadership.com

  11. vince schubert Says:

    Perhaps the WSI (Wise Society Index) is best defined by the WSI (World Stupidity Index). I’m only partly joking.
    Wisdom is impossible to define. Although the word is a noun, it doesn’t exist in any concrete way. The results of action can be described as Wise in hindsight but nowhere is there a thing called wisdom.
    I believe that Wisdom is a process/attitude that is brought to a situation.
    To say a person has Wisdom (like saying they have red hair) is to ignore the likelihood that they maybe sometimes not Wise.
    When i am not wise it is usually because i am immersed in emotion.
    This leads me to consider that the unwise behaviour of individuals is really what defines the Wisdom Index. (it is always individuals even if a collection of them makes up a society/country etc.)
    Truth is arrived at by removing the False. Truth can’t be defined, False can.
    The degree that a Society is NOT ruled by emotion doesn’t help us arrive at a measurable Index.
    Fear and Greed determine how the Stock Market performs.
    Fear and Greed determine the political outcomes in Australia (where i am trying to develop Wise living)
    We actually have politicians who say we shouldn’t attend to Global Warming if it costs jobs. This short sighted thinking is definitely not Wise!
    This attitude is so popular in Australia that if an election were held now they would most certainly win. Those trying to do something about it are seen as depriving people of prosperity. I’m not saying that those trying to do something about it are Wise. They are not. Not because they are trying to do something but because they are behaving with as much religiosity as the Opposition.
    There is a large percentage of the Australian population who believe that their opinion is as valid as the results of scientific analysis in the Global Warming debate. They obviously have no idea of what goes into the science. Which brings me to the point that a WSI needs to be done with sample sizes that are adequate. Those sample also need to proportionally represent all sections of a society. For Example, if 10% of Australians live in rural areas then 10% of the sample needs to be from rural areas. Of that 10% we might have 1% who are rich graziers, 15% who are farmers, 30% who are workers for the above and 52% who live in small rural towns. Then of the 52% living in those towns we have further breakdowns from business owners to workers and a high proportion of unemployed.
    Next is the problem of how to get the samples. If it is an ‘opt in’ system then you are only going to get those who feel good about the survey and thus not be representative.
    A national census is done in Australia every five years and theoretically every citizen takes part in it.
    Getting the government to include questions to make up a WSI could be tricky.
    What questions would need to be asked?
    Self reporting is prone to bias so something objective and measurable is needed.
    “How many times did you go to the doctor in the last 12 months?” would unlikely yield accurate reporting. Obtaining this info from Doctors might be possible although privacy issues might prevail.
    …boy! This is a difficult one.
    Could a Wellness Index correlate to Wisdom?
    There is a study that polls 1000 US citizens every day (http://www.well-beingindex.com)
    If this project could include Wisdom related questions and be expanded worldwide to cover each and every society…
    Ok, the questions;
    1. “Do you personally know anybody you would consider Wise?”
    “Please describe in what way they are Wise.”
    The above questions remove the ego response and define what Wisdom is to the person answering.
    2. An early question would need to determine which society the person belonged.(not necessary if the society = country)
    Would ethnicity or residence in an ethnic enclave be a subculture (or sub-society)?
    Perhaps using existing socio-economic area maps would suffice if sub-city social grouping was used.
    At the other extreme just taking a whole country as a society would be meaningful enough. Sample size if big enough would aggregate variations. In the Wellbeing Index above a sample size of say, 5000 per week, provided the samples were taken proportionally across all of the different areas of society. If the study were published annually then the sample size would be 250,000.
    3. A question such as “do you consider yourself wise?” solicits a yes/no/maybe answer.
    “In what way have you used wisdom in decision making during the past 7 days” will get a descriptive answer.
    “Are you aware of consciously considering wisdom when making a decision during the past 7 days.” most likely to get yes/no/maybe answers.
    4. The yes/no/maybe answers are more amenable to computer analysis whereas descriptive answers need human evaluation.
    How do we measure the attitude (wisdom) of the individuals that make up a society?
    I certainly wouldn’t want to be defined by my political leaders or my religious leaders or even by my neighbours, yet an index for society would be aggregated (if that’s a word)
    If i am wise and the rest of my society is not, then the aggregate will be unwise. What proportion of individuals are needed to think/act wisely for a society to be considered wise.

    This then leads to the question of how to determine individual wisdom.
    But wait a minute, how much of my thinking/action needs to be wise for me to be considered wise? and surely it follows that a society will fluctuate in wise expression.
    Are there degrees of Wisdom? Would an Index measure degrees of Wisdom or the frequency of Wisdom?
    Hmm, none of this helps define a WSI.
    On reading what I have written, it seems that all I have done is partially defined the problem.
    What is Wisdom?
    What is Society?
    What is an Index?

    I ask myself “am I being wise in my approach to this?”
    I answer with a question “am I looking at this from the widest perspective possible?”
    answer “there is always more” .

    Is there any way other than asking questions to gather information to contribute to a WSI ?
    Does wise behaviour have an outcome different to unwise behaviour? Certainly you could say that the results of Wise behaviour will be more appropriate. You could imagine that there would be less negative ramifications. So, would it be profitable to consider how much of a persons life is mired in difficulties that arose from previous decisions. Would polling Doctors/Hospitals/Police/Psychologists/.., where people turn to when problems rule.

    Is there any other way to develop a WSI than by gathering information?
    Hmm, can’t think of any (yet).
    Perhaps polling people who are considered wise with sufficient questions would reveal attributes in common that could be used to construct a concept of a wise person.
    I wonder if a single question could reveal a degree of Wisdom.
    As in the Ethics field a moral dilemma could reveal a wise attitude. Something like “is it ever OK to lie?”

    What is the purpose of a WSI ?
    I contend that the only valid reason is to promote Wisdom in the unWise.
    Are there any circumstances where a WSI could do this?
    If a WSI were presented as statistics then the unWise would see it one way and the Wise another.

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