TED Talk: We Stopped Being Wise

How to get out of a crisis? Not with rules, not with policies. Everybody should watch this 19-minute online video of Barry Schwartz from the latest TED conference. It went live on the Web yesterday, February 16.

Here are some quotes: It’s way better in context, but still:

At TED, brilliance is rampant. It’s scary. The good news is that you don’t have to be brilliant to be wise. The bad news is that without wisdom, brilliance isn’t enough.

Schwartz pits what he calls moral wisdom against rules and procedures, which, in context, work out to be basically the opposite of moral wisdom. Here too, much better in context, but so you get the idea:

Rules and procedures may be dumb, but they spare you from thinking.

The truth is that neither rules nor incentives is good enough to do the job.

Scripts like these are insurance policies against disaster. And they prevent disaster. But what they assure, in its place, is mediocrity.

He suggests that ideally everyone should do what’s right because it’s right, not because of rules and regulation.

A wise person knows:

  1. When and how to make an exception to every rule.
  2. When and how to improvise.
  3. 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 situations that are appropriate for the situation and the people at hand.

If for whatever reason you don’t see the video here, you can click here to go to the source on TED.com.


  • bamabrad says:

    Orlando, I think that you get where I'm coming from. Although I think that one's wisdom can be honed or sharpened, each of us contain only a very minute amount of wisdom(the ability to apply knowledge), and in most cases, we are wise in our own eyes-but we must rely on the wisdom that is offered use from the perfect, unchangeable 'One Point of Reference'.When we as human beings use our own 'wisdom', there are just too many individual prejudices and unknowns for each to decide where the reference point is-when we learn and grow, our reference point will tend to shift with our limited knowledge-just like Hitler REALLY thought he was right from his perspective reference point, and some people in the world think-BELIEVE-that it is right-and even their duty-to kill others because of their race or beliefs. This shows the flaws of each deciding their own reference point. As with a compass. if you don't have an unmovable and unchangeable reference point, how can one WHERE he is at or even where he is going?

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  • Orlando Fernandes says:

    Bamabrad, I believe wisdom cannot be invented, It is something you draw on, is that what you refer to when you refer to a need for an 'unmovable point of reference from which we all start out from with our moral compasses.' ?

  • bamabrad says:

    Hit the nail on the head!-One important aspect-where is moral wisdom and how is it defined is THE starting point-for example, some (around 50% in America) people's morality will not allow abortion because it is considered murdering babies while the other 50% say that it is an acceptable practice because it is within a woman's right to do what she wants with this-EX #2-In some parts of the world it is considered morally acceptable for women to go to school and show their ankles while in other areas this behavior will get your head cut off-this being morally acceptable in this part of the world. What I'm trying to say is that the human being's idea of 'moral wisdom' changes and moves with time, situation, geography, and even from individual to individual-so what is needed is an unchangeable and unmovable point of reference from which we all start out from with our moral compasses.

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