What if the freshest insight on how to talk about 21st century transformations isn’t found in a snappy TEDx Talk or an MBA program but in the works of a philosopher born almost 2,500 years ago? I’ve always found the works of classical Greece indispensable to understanding the world today, including the world of business. Aristotle, for one, had a lot to say about knowledge that is not only relatable but useful for companies undergoing great change.
In my research and advisory work, I stress the importance of listening to the questions that people ask to understand not only what motivates them but also what they don’t get. I had a great opportunity recently to do this when I hosted a panel with 500 attendees discussing the challenges of digital transformation. These were people tasked with implementing change in large companies, but it was clear from their questions that they had very different understandings of what needed to be done. It occurred to me that Aristotle’s ideas about knowledge domains would help leaders translate these ways of thinking and talking about transformation into a shared language that would make the transformation more successful.
In Metaphysics (Book 1) and Nicomachean Ethics (Book 6), Aristotle made a distinction between expertise, science, wisdom, and prudence. That distinction can provide a simple framework for understanding what I call the messy middle of transformation. The messy middle is the unknown, uncertain space between past and future, between theory and practice, that characterizes organizations in the process of becoming something new. To navigate the messy middle of transformation, leaders must understand how the different knowledge domains contribute to the transformation—and help their employees find a way to be part of the same conversation.
See the visualization of the messy middle between the four domains of knowledge and read the full article here: