A Tribute to my Mother

Balaji Krishnamurthy

Food for Thought is our way of sharing interesting concepts on corporate leadership and management with others who might find it useful. The thoughts offered are intended to be controversial and thought-provoking. They are intended to help our readers intentionally realize their potential, what we call Potentionality.

I apologize up front for using this forum to fulfill a personal agenda. I debated whether I should write this article but decided that I would regret it more if I passed up the opportunity. Unlike my usual articles, there might be little provocation or controversy in this one, but it nevertheless sums up a good message in business.

My mother passed away a few weeks ago, on May 8th. She was 87 and lived a good life. My parents were visiting the U.S. from India to see their children, grandchildren and the proliferating number of great-grandchildren. All the touring around the country put a strain on my mother; she came down with pneumonia and succumbed within three days.

I want to dedicate this Food for Thought to her and use it to illustrate something I learned from her. I do not write this to express my grief or solicit sympathy and condolence, but rather to share a lesson I learned from her that is fitting for these Food for Thought articles.

In rural India of 1940, my mother’s education ended abruptly after 5th grade, because the 6th grade schoolhouse was in the next village over and she would have had to take the train to get there. Why would you send a little girl alone on a train for a grade school education? went the logic. At the age of 15, she was arranged to be married to my father, whom she met on her wedding day. My father was pursuing a college degree at the time, and he would go on to get his Ph.D. and become the vice president of a major university. They were married for almost 73 years.

I certainly got my father’s doctrine that science, math and logic rule the world. But my mother provided the balancing view: It is not just the science, but the situation that matters. My father is certainly book-smart, but my mother was street-smart. When it came to getting things done around the house, dealing with unscrupulous vendors, or even negotiating transactions at the local bazar, my father walked behind my mother. It was not until later in life that I appreciated how my mother’s street smarts were as important as my father’s book smarts.

Growing up, we were allowed to discuss, debate and even argue with my father. If he laid down a rule, we would ask why. That was encouraged. But if my mother laid down a rule, it was the law. Nobody was allowed to argue with my mother. We could even argue with my father about the logic of that maxim. But that maxim was a given. It was his way of protecting my mother from her increasingly educated children using their logic to run circles around her. He knew that eventually, the children would learn that she had more wisdom than knowledge.

You see, book smarts give you knowledge, but street smarts give you wisdom.

In a Tool called Value Stack, developed in collaboration with Tim Clark, professor at Northern Arizona University, we emphasize the importance of moving up the value stack in the information revolution – to elevate from data to information, on to analysis, even to insight and finally to wisdom. This concept is related to an old concept called DIKW Pyramid. My mother, without any profound education, and with little knowledge of the information revolution, had figured out how to gain wisdom by simply observing the world.

In business, we certainly need people who are qualified to do certain jobs. Those qualification are often expected in the form of education and experience. But do we adequately seek and value the ability to gain wisdom from all that knowledge? What is the difference between gaining wisdom and learning from an experience?

Wisdom is the ability to find patterns in one’s experience and extract conclusions that can be applied to future situations. In examining and evaluating people in your business, examine the wisdom they have gained. In the spirit of our mantra – intentionality – become intentional in looking for those patterns. Seek wisdom, in addition to knowledge and experience.

Again, thank you for letting me use this forum to drive a personal agenda.

We welcome your comments on our Food for Thought mailings and encourage you to explore the Food for Thought archive. We hope your business is doing well. We’re happy to chat about the content of this article or anything else which you’d like assistance.

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