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Spinach and Wisdom

Spinach was never my favorite vegetable growing up. That green soggy and slimy mess on my plate just wasn’t something I was interested in eating.

“You know there are starving children all over the world. You are not leaving that table until you finish eating your spinach.”  Our response was “Get me their address.  I will mail it to them.”  That was not an argument that would win over Mom.

Years later while working as a Business Analyst working on negotiating outsourcing contracts, cleverness was raised to an art form. A quick off-the-cuff remark that was clever could disarm the most well thought out point.  Cleverness is always concerned with triumphing over one’s opponent in an argument or discussion.  Negotiations became more of a game and less about understanding each other.  A person is considered sharp, skillful and witty throwing out quip.  You can of course also be viewed as sarcastic and mean spirited.

Many negotiations concluded, and contracts won. The art form of negotiation used cleverness frequently and very little business analysis.  It was all about getting our needs met and overcoming any opposition.  By this focus on overcoming the other side, we lost sight on really understanding the points of views of others and just forcing your point of view forward to win.  Business Analysis was throw out the window to be successful.

Winning did not produce the great results we had cleverly negotiated. Many of the outsourcing agreements feel part within two years due to significant issues with outsourcing vendors. One agreement fell apart after six months.  We just couldn’t understand why all our contracts fell apart. We later learned that our approach to not understanding the business problem and the business model of outsourcing vendors was a key factor in having these contracts fall apart. We won the battle. We got what we wanted.  The problem was we were too busy being clever.  


Society values cleverness. Twitter runs on 128 characters or less of cleverness in discussions on complex topics. TV is full of the clever one-liners going back and forth. Being clever never helps us resolve issues but rather makes them worse.  I can make the quip about sending spinach to starving children by getting their address to win a battle but lose the war on spinach by having to sit at the table until it is completely eaten. I valued cleverness more and tried to feed it to the dog. Australian sheepdogs do not like spinach, so I was stuck eating it myself.  

Wisdom is not always so valued when compared to cleverness.  Wisdom is walking in someone else’s shoes to see the world through their eyes to understand their point of view. Wisdom is not about winning points in an agreement or negotiation. Wisdom is the observation, empathy, and thoughtfulness to gain deeper meaning and understanding. Wisdom is relating yours and others experiences together for the current issue at hand. Wisdom is slow and takes time. Cleverness is fast and quick.

It is hard being wise in an environment where speed is of the essence.  We want to go faster and faster. We want to be clever. In choosing whether to be clever or wise, I would choose wisdom. Wisdom opens your eyes to all the possibilities and gives a deeper understanding to move forward productively. Granted that may take more time for Business Analysis but it is time well spent to protect our future investment.

A colleague of mine in the construction industry once said to me, “To build a house in 3 days – you have to design and plan for three years.”  At the time, I thought he was nuts.  The truth of it was that he was perfectly correct.  In building a new development, we really could get a house framed with doors and windows, painted walls, electrical, plumbing and flooring all completed in 3 days. A customer bought the house on Monday, and it was ready to move in on Thursday.  Solid good quality homes built from the ground up in a fraction of the time.  Those three years paid off big time.  The construction company saved considerable amounts of money by being able to close on houses faster.

Looking back at those outsourcing contract negotiations, it is clear to me that wisdom was missing.  We did not look deep, did not understand their situation or expectations, and we failed even while getting everything we wanted.  Wisdom would have driven us to walk in their shoes and understand them more fully before attempting to construct those agreements.

In the case of spinach, it may have been wiser to gulp down the cooked spinach and ask for raw spinach next time.

May we have the good sense to know when to be clever and when to be wise.

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