How to Track Wisdom

Thomas, from Germany, wrote in recently with a question for our QS advisory board:

do you have an idea how to track wisdom? i would like to start a project involving “mental models” as promoted by charles munger. but how do i know that this is working? how can someone track the
quality of his decisions and understanding of the world?
QS advisor Seth Roberts rose to the challenge of answering Thomas’ question:
I would start by writing down each day a few of my decisions. Perhaps just one decision per day. So I would have a slowly growing list of decisions. Then I would later come back and rate each one. I’d need to develop a rating scheme; it might have more than one dimension. For example, one dimension might be importance, another might be time frame, a third might be how expected the outcome was. In other words, I would start with the simplest easiest project that might shed some light on how to do it. It’s really important to make the first steps as easy as possible. But it’s also important to make it something you do every day, so that you acquire a habit. So you start by acquiring a tiny amount of data each day.
If you have a burning tracking-related question, write to us and we’ll try to get it answered for you! Also, if you have an alternative answer for Thomas on how to track wisdom, please leave a comment below.
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17 Responses to How to Track Wisdom

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention How to Track Wisdom | Quantified Self --

  2. Joost Plattel says:

    Interesting question! Lately I noticed much of my information I know about is stored somewhere else: on notes, Evernote, my email etc… (On a side-note is it possible/acknowledgeable to outsource knowledge to a another platform?)

    While knowledge/information is not the same as wisdom, some of it can be measured in quantities… So indirectly if wisdom is determined by knowledge it I think we have some interesting points we can use to measure it.

    The point Seth Roberts is making about tracking decisions in an excellent starting point. If we could somehow connect personal trends of knowledge and information and relate them to wisdom then we can start measuring it.

  3. Eri Gentry says:

    I’m reminded of a time I hiked up a mountain for 10 hours with a good friend who, at the top, said “I hope I can be wise someday.” Shocked, I responded, “Really? You ARE wise!” To me, this was clear in the way he lived his life, spoke to and advised others. But, obviously, not so clear to him.

    I believe that our greatest insights (proof of wisdom) are more likely to be seen by outside players than by ourselves. Perhaps especially true for humble folks. So, to measure wisdom, why not do one of several things:

    - Ask your friends, “Am I wise? Why or why not? Has this changed over time?” OR request that friends ask you for advice on real-life problems, provided they give you feedback
    - Do the same of strangers, online or in real-life. Online reputation systems (number of likes on facebook, ratio of thumbs up to thumbs down for your responses on forums) provide neat ways to throw your ideas out there and see what responses you get
    - Become a mentor – to a child, an adult in a job similar to you or a previous role. See how this relationship evolves over time. Talk with other mentors about how they’ve shaped their own wisdom and ability to transmit experiences to others.
    - Follow your passion. Nope, this isn’t a weird metaphor for tracking wisdom, just a note that the most wise people and innovative ideas are misunderstood by 99% of others. To some extent, you just have to do what feels right and stick to your guns.

  4. Venkat says:

    When in college in India I planned to write one couplet per day so that I can have drama (like the one of shkespeare)in one year.But couldn’t because mind and wisdom interact and take different directions with known and unknown prioritisation of the actula recodings.Further as I frequently tell this community life is entropic in which space and time and action have directions.But if you control the entrpy of one the other gets altered in unknown parameter and proportion of statistical ensemble.
    all this quntifications are patterns of controlling entropy and sustaining and output of that may result in different entropic dimension. this much for now

  5. Mark says:

    I agree with Seth about noting decisions made each day, and coding them once enough had been gathered to adequately classify them. I’d use existing, established classification schemes to do so, or adapt something similar, like the VIA classification of character strengths.

  6. nick gogerty says:

    One part of wisdom is having the model. The other part of wisdom is knowing when, how and wether or not to apply it.

  7. thomas says:

    thank you all for your input. seth, i like your idea to make desicions mesurable but on the other hand it looks very subjectiv. eri had some great ideas to make the data more objectiv by getting feedback from outside. maybe i have to define wisdom better (i think its more then desicions) and find one aspect that delivers ‘hard facts’. it is possible for intelligence with standardised tests so it should be possible with wisdom too. and yes nick you are absolutly right, just having the models is only the first step. do you use mental models?
    thanx everyone.


  8. nick gogerty says:

    Yes, by default everyone uses mental models. The null case is tought to put forward :)

    The trick is to recognize two things. What is the correct frame for a problem and then how much does an individual need to abstract a reductionist problem to apply the correct model. Abstraction in the logic/software sense i.e. choosing the level of reduction and thus application is vital.

    A collection of mental models is like knowing a series of guitar chords. Identifying the correct place for each one is the true art.

  9. thomas says:

    nice metaphor nick :)
    so if mental models are your chords, and using the “chords” in the right way is the song, how do i know that i am getting better as an artist? could be difficult to find an audience (since my wisdom may be not so entertaining like a concert) :)
    maybe i have to ask myself what is the goal of using this models? i allways had this diffuse feeling that wisdom is something very valuable and i want to be wise some day. but what is widom?

  10. nick gogerty says:

    My response to “what is wisdom”, in regards to the how to track it question above. Is similar to the kierkegaard quote “Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward.”

    Wisdom should probably be measured in retrospect as a reflection on choices made earlier and then re-assessed with the context of time and broader experience.

    Track it with an app would be a calendar function asking, “Did you make a big decision(s) today?” then weight the perceived importance of the decision 1-5 etc.

    Then at future “anniversary” intervals assess the decision. larger decisions life altering would be tracked over time. Thus a person could see over time (only backwards) if they felt they were getting wiser. One could also invite freinds to judge the decision as well. on a private: public or “to be revealed later” mode. The living diary of choice would be quite cool and highly addictive in retrospect to see “what was important? was it really that important? and was the correct choice made?”

  11. nick gogerty says:

    You would track your wisdom quotient slowly and see that maybe there were “less” wise periods in life, but hopefully over all knowledge and development of the whole self and the recognition of what constitutes truly important choice in one relationship to life, self and others.

  12. Matthew Cornell says:

    Great topic, and I love the answers. I put my thoughts here, if you’re interested: How self-tracking and experimenting can generate wisdom.

  13. thomas says:

    i think i know what to do:
    1. i will choose the 1 most important decision/most interesting situation of the day (more tracking could be to much bureaucracy)
    2. then i’ll assign the mental model i think fits best
    3. next column would be the resulting expectation/outcome that the model indicates
    4. later i would add the real outcome. then i could rate if the model was appropriate and if my interpretation of the model was right.

    with this method i can find out which mental models are applicable in many situations and deliver good results. and i can rate my own implementation of the models.

    i have to try this out.
    thanx everyone.

  14. I run a blog about the pursuit of widsom called the Farnam Street Blog. The blog is a way for me to keep track of things that i’m learning and connecting. I post the best articles from around the internet that relate to psychology, behavioural economics, human misjudgment, persuasion, and other subjects of interest (which are mental-model related).

  15. Someone on this site was kind enough to plug my book How To Measure Anything. I had been meaning to directly contact the QS team about another book idea and this particular blog entry seemed like a great lead-in to the question. I’ve been interested in writing about measuring the least measured aspect of organizations- the performance of decisions. Even the most metrics-driven organizations which measure every other menial process in the business fail to measure the all-important process of how the big decisions are made.

    I agree with the comment that measurement of decisions starts with documentation. But there are a few other items to keep in mind. Research shows how our actual decisions are often correlated to irrelevant and random external events, how we are consistently overconfident, and how we tend to interpret success and failure in the most flattering light. Fortunately, there are practical methods to correct for these. We can also do more than just track the decisions we make. We can test ourselves with controlled experiments. And we can measure many things about decisions. Decisions are often amalgams of several estimates and forecasts which can eventually be confirmed. Decision alternatives and timing might be measured in a more continuous manner than periodic journal entries of what we choose to document (our choices of what to document are not necessarilly objective or representative).

    I’m particularly interested in how the kinds of physiological measurements QS members track might correlate to decision performance. And research in social networks shows how many behaviors move through populations like a virus. Perhaps decision behaviors do the same.

    My most recent book, Pulse, ties into some ideas about how analysis of massive amounts of internet data from social networks, blogs, ebay sales, Google search patterns and more can predict major macro-trends. This has profound implications for the measurement of both individuals and society.

    So, I hope to hear from someone at QS about how QS can be an important element of my next project.

    Thanks for letting me borrow your soapbox,
    Doug Hubbard

  16. Gary Wolf says:

    Hi Doug – Thank you for this excellent comment. I would love to have you contribute some knowledge about measuring decisions. Also as one of our goals at QS is to encourage collaborative research, you are welcome to canvass the QS community for ideas about how decision measurement is being used, if at all. I should mention is that we recently started a fairly low-key forum/bbs for more in depth discussion of specific QS topics. There is a great “Learning and Cognition” conversation there that is moderated by Nick WInter of Skrittr. You could start a thread there. It’s an open forum, and anybody can participate. If you invite people from your network to pipe up, I’ll invite the QS crowd, and maybe we can get a conversation going.

    Most of the Learning and Cognition conversation is focused on individual cognitive performance, but I think decision making is reasonably including under “learning.”

    Gary Wolf

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