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Leaders Need to Harness Aristotle’s 3 Types of Knowledge

https://hbr.org/2020/10/leaders-need-to-harness-aristotles-3-types-of-knowledge

hbr.org

Leaders Need to Harness Aristotle’s 3 Types of Knowledge
Knowing how to think about a problem is the first step to solving it.

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Improving your leadership capability

A critical skill for leaders is the ability to figure out what kind of thinking is necessary to address a given challenge.

The wrong kind of thinking about a problem happens all the time because different types of effort require different types of knowledge. For example, you may analyze scientific data when a values-informed judgment call is needed, or you'll trust your instincts where a data analysis would expose your faulty thinking.

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Solving different types of problems

Solving different types of problems

Aristotle outlined distinct types of knowledge required to solve problems in three realms.

  • Techne was craft knowledge: learning to use tools and methods to create something, such as a farmer designing an irrigation system.
  • Episteme was scientific knowledge: discovering the laws of nature. An astronomer contemplating why galaxies turn the way they do will fall in this realm.
  • Phronesis was similar to ethical judgment: The perspective-taking and wisdom required to make decisions when there are multiple possible answers. For example, a policymaker deciding how to allocate limited funds.

Aristotle outlined these three kinds of knowledge because they require different styles of thinking. If you have a phronetic problem to solve, don't use an epistemic thinker.

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Recognize which thinking is needed

Most leaders haven't thought much about the realms of knowledge and what problems they can solve. If you're a leader of a large corporation with challenges in all three of these realms, it's a big part of your job to ensure the right kinds of thinking are used and in which situation it is required.

That means you should be able to recognize which mode of thinking is the best fit for a given problem, and which people are able to best deal with it.

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Benefiting from an organized effort

The world would benefit from an organized effort from various disciplines to understand:

  • How we should identify and train brilliant young people.
  • How the most effective small groups exchange and share ideas.
  • Which incentives should exist for participants in innovative ecosystems (scientists, entrepreneurs, managers, and engineers)
  • How much organizations differ in productivity. One recent study found that teaching better management practices to firms in Italy improved productivity by 49 percent over 15 years compared with peer firms that didn’t receive the training.
  • How scientists should be selected and funded. A recent paper concluded that long-term grants to high-potential scientists made those scientists 96 percent more likely to produce breakthrough work.

Progress Studies antecedents

  • The Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University tried to encourage optimistic thinking about the future through fiction and narrative.
  • An applied history movement is needed to help draw lessons from history and apply them to real-world problems.
  • In a world with Progress Studies, a new focus on progress belongs to a school of thought that would encourage a decentralized shift in priorities among academics, philanthropists, and funding agencies. This has already happened in climate-science research and the designation of Keynesian economics, which helped economists focus on fiscal policy as a tool for recession fighting.

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Being E-Ready Every Minute of the Day

Smart people know that having a fulfilling life means having a life outside of work. And they make time for it. Obsessively checking work email at the dinner table is a good recipe for disaster. 

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