Sunday, August 9, 2009

Video of the Week: Barry Schwartz on our loss of wisdom

Barry Schwartz makes a passionate call for "practical wisdom" as an antidote to a society gone mad with bureaucracy. He argues powerfully that rules often fail us, incentives often backfire, and practical, everyday wisdom will help rebuild our world.

Excerpt from talk: Practical wisdom," Aristotle told us,is the combination of moral will and moral skill." A wise person knows when and how to make the exception to every rule,as the janitors knew when to ignore the job duties in the service of other objectives. A wise person knows how to improvise, as Luke did when he re-washed the floor. Real-world problems are often ambiguous and ill-defined and the context is always changing. A wise person is like a jazz musician --using the notes on the page, but dancing around them, inventing combinations that are appropriate for the situation and the people at hand. A wise person knows how to use these moral skills in the service of the right aims.To serve other people, not to manipulate other people. And finally, perhaps most important, a wise person is made, not born.Wisdom depends on experience,and not just any experience.You need the time to get to know the people that you're serving. You need permission to be allowed to improvise,try new things, occasionally to fail and to learn from your failures. And you need to be mentored by wise teachers. Full transcript is here.

In his 2004 book The Paradox of Choice , Barry Schwartz tackles one of the great mysteries of modern life: Why is it that societies of great abundance — where individuals are offered more freedom and choice (personal, professional, material) than ever before — are now witnessing a near-epidemic of depression? Conventional wisdom tells us that greater choice is for the greater good, but Schwartz argues the opposite: He makes a compelling case that the abundance of choice in today’s western world is actually making us miserable. Infinite choice is paralyzing, Schwartz argues, and exhausting to the human psyche. It leads us to set unreasonably high expectations, question our choices before we even make them and blame our failures entirely on ourselves. His relatable examples, from consumer products (jeans, TVs, salad dressings) to lifestyle choices (where to live, what job to take, who and when to marry), underscore this central point: Too much choice undermines happiness.


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