Knowledge and Wisdom: Completing the Competence Assessment Matrix

Knowledge and Wisdom by Dr. Greg Waddell

Photo from Clipart.com

Sometimes simplicity helps.  In this post I want to suggest a simple model for employee assessment that considers two dimensions: knowledge and wisdom — within the knowledge category are included both information and skills.

Knowledge refers to our understanding of the way things work in the external world of things and people. Wisdom, on the other hand, is about understanding of our internal realities, such as motivation, aspirations, dreams, and vision. It is the ability to tap into this inward world as a point of reference from which to influence the outward world.

Wisdom also has to do with discerning the demons that incapacitate the soul such as disconnection from oneself and a sense of meaninglessness. It’s about self-awareness both of our strengths and weaknesses. Saint Augustine makes the distinction between knowledge and wisdom in the following quote from his Treatise on the Trinity.

Those doubtless judge better who prefer … the knowledge of themselves; and that mind is more praiseworthy which knows even its own weakness, than that which, without regard to this, searches out, and even comes to know, the ways of the stars, or which holds fast such knowledge already acquired, while ignorant of the way by which itself to enter into its own proper health and strength (Preface to Book IV, italics are mine).

To paraphrase, Augustine is saying knowledge of self is far more important to success in life than knowledge of all the sciences. Particularly important is knowledge of how we learn, what some refer to as “meta-knowledge.”

Wisdom is this latter kind of knowledge about ourselves and about how to learn. The combination of these two kinds of understanding marks the mature individual and the highly valuable employee.

These two qualities (knowledge and wisdom) provide a double continuum from which we can develop a matrix as follows:

The Knowledge-Wisdom Matrix

The Knowledge - Wisdom Matrix

  1. In the first quadrant where both knowledge and wisdom are low, people are basically useless to the organization. Most people are likely not to be hired if this is their situation. However, some companies partner with area community colleges to take young people from even this stage and develop them into capable employees.
  2. The second quadrant gets interesting. People with a well-developed base of wisdom, but who lack knowledge are usually those who have grown beyond their position. They are ready for larger challenges, perhaps for the challenge of moving into a position of leadership. Such people need to add new knowledge to their skill set to fit new possibilities. In many organizations, however, such people are stuck and their potential is not allowed to flourish because of some inhibiting assumptions on the part of the top management.
  3. The third quadrant is where we find the mature employee who has a high level of knowledge in his or her area of expertise and has also developed a profound understanding of the value and influence of the intangibles. Such people make excellent leaders and can be a tremendous asset to the organization.
  4. The fourth quadrant represents those individuals who are high in knowledge but low in wisdom. They may be completely unaware of the spiritual dimension of life. When others try to bring up these issues, they try to downplay their importance. For them, the only relevant issue is what’s happening out there where we can see, touch, feel, smell, and hear it.

What do you think? Does this model make sense to you? What are its flaws? Where does it differ from the realities of the workplace?

provides consulting services for churches and organizations. Contact Dr. Waddell today at gregwaddell[at]leadstrategic.com to discuss the needs of your organization.

6 thoughts on “Knowledge and Wisdom: Completing the Competence Assessment Matrix

  1. We use a similar model Greg — competence and character — but we add a 3rd dimension and that is promotability. If someone doesn’t desire to be promoted, or to be challenged further, but they have a lot of self-insight and character, they are classed differently than someone who has both competence and character AND is someone that wants to be promoted and that others can see at higher levels in the org. Great stuff!

  2. Jennifer
    You bring up a great point.. the importance of willingness. I use another model that includes mind, body, and soul or (to put it another way) knowledge, skill, and commitment. See my post about this at https://leadstrategic.com/2013/01/07/readiness/. I’m speaking tomorrow on burnout. Your comment makes me wonder about those people who are high wisdom and insight and so forth, but who just don’t want to grow any further.. I wonder if they have experienced burnout. Thanks for coming by and sharing your insights.

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