Pyramid Of Wisdom v2

The Pyramid of Wisdom

In Search of Knowledge and Wisdom

I would like to suggest, that at the core of our primal intellectual desire, is a need to seek knowledge and wisdom. The pyramid of wisdom is my personal visual representation of the evolution of demand created from need, through knowledge creation to the final satisfaction of that demand by skill-full application of wisdom during creative, innovative problem solving and system thinking.


A life or death evolutionary experiment

From cradle to grave, we journey through life gathering data based upon our sense of smell, touch, taste as well as hearing, seeing and experiences gained from a diverse range of sources.   The raw data gathered is then collectively processed into valuable memories which inform our innate primal needs.  Primitive as they were, Homo Erectus were the first people to realise the value of venturing out beyond the limits of their known domain in search of new knowledge.

Abandoning the relative safety of what was already known in favour of exploring the unknown in what would have been a life or death evolutionary experiment.  Driven on by little more than new ideas, assumptions, information, knowledge and wisdom … they would seek to improve, evolve and ascend to new levels of understanding, often hard won and priced in life’s and limbs.  This human struggle to survive would in return yield a valuable pool of new reusable wisdom.  These collaborators bound together by shared mutual interests, risk and rewards as a collective form of the earliest known human problem solvers.  Empowered by a growing daily demand they battle together to satisfy the most basic of human needs.  They most effectively, efficiently, skilfully and wisely collaborated to fill their collective needs when they came together and hunted in teams.


Lean Is Child’s Play

I would also like to suggest that at its core, Lean Six Sigma is simple basic common sense, so much so, that just as an answer to complexity is simplicity, lean is child’s play.  Don’t knock it until you have tried it! … because the truth be known, I would imagine you likely already have.  Even from the mouth of babes, lean parents come into being when they are first called to action in a collaborative problem solving experimentation and learning in response to new born’s.  The need for learning is signalled with an infants first breath which is often sounded by an alert that cries out for  the problem solving process to begin … and with a real sense of urgency may I add. This primal gut wrenching infant cry can instantly trigger an innate empathetic compulsion response in any parent to move with agility and begin testing a series of assumptions and hypothesis through experimentation in an urgent search for the required wisdom to best fill the infants screaming demand as rapidly as is possible.

This alert can go on, ‘andon’ … often only quieted by the prompt delivery of exactly what is demanded, when its demanded, right first time, every time.  Positive results are transformed into information, collected and combined into creative and innovative ideas and concepts.  Ideas and concepts are measured in satisfaction levels.  Successful solutions are reborn as products of wisdom gained through the active learning process and are measured by key performance indicators for success or failure signalled only by a fully satisfied customer.  Try suggesting to baby that they wait while you clear the bottleneck of preparing batch of bottles and you’ll very quickly learn all you’ll ever really need to know about single piece flow.


The value of value

Innovation is often defined within the terms of its potential to create commercial value.  In recent decades the greater emergence of social enterprise has signalled social value of combining with commercial needs. Not all value can be measured in financial terms, take the best efforts of volunteers who invest valuable time and effort into a cost which can be translated back into money terms as a commercial value but the impact of all that passion, effort and dedication without pay work can have an invaluable social value outcomes.

In a 2001 promotional video interview with Prof. Martin Hurley of University of Limerick, he is quoted as suggesting …

“Research takes money and turns it into knowledge,

innovation takes knowledge and turns it into money”1

I can’t say that I entirely agree with this suggestion … why?

I would agree that …

‘Innovation takes knowledge and turns it into commercial value and social gain’

… there is however a bridge that I believe needs to be crossed first before research can be transformed into knowledge and that transformation is ‘The Process Of Learning’ and I would like to offer an explanation of my thinking.


A short story first …

I am personally prone to moments of flashes of innovative inspiration which I like to call ‘joining the dots’ between problems and solutions. This happens mostly for no particular reason, at no particular time, with no particular method or trigger. I have noted however, I’m not alone and it always appears to happen when my mind suddenly chooses to relax into deeper rest and is impossible for me to predict.

It can happen when I am sleeping, working or as was the case in this instance, bang in the middle of a 2 and a half hour University of Limerick post graduate exam paper. I pretty much used up all my rough paper with a single diagram I later named the ‘Pyramid of Wisdom’. This pyramid demonstrates my initial theory of the evolution of wisdom and its first origins born of need.


Version I – The Pyramid of Wisdom Original 2013 version.


In my moment of inspiration, ‘Knowledge’ sits just below ‘Wisdom’ and above ‘Facts or Data’ where research is utilised to harvest this data and facts. Between both is ‘Information’ which enables learning and spawns the birth of ‘Knowledge’ and then ‘Wisdom’ to apply that ‘Knowledge’ effectively and successfully.


The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘Research’ as …

“The systematic investigation into, and study of, materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions.”2


This definition would appear to further support my theory that ‘Research’ is a prerequisite (“… in order …”) which later empowers the creation of a hypothesis, conclusion, confirmation or support of new or existing facts. In short, data harvested during research is related and joined (assimilated) to form information from which the process of learning can begin.

If however the research remains dormant (aka reports gathering dust). “Research takes money and turns it into waste”.

So, if we are to agree that “Research takes money and turns it into information” and disprove the original saying, we need to answer the question what ‘takes information and turns it into knowledge?’

I suggest that ‘Research’ simply put, is nothing more than the collection of data or facts which become input into a process which outputs information. Online web forms are often used to capture survey data. This data is then compared to existing thinking or known facts. Where the data does not support existing thinking or facts, further data processing is required before outputting and creation of new theory or the establishment of new facts.

This period of subsequent data processing includes ‘Reflection’, ‘Assimilation’ and ‘Ideation’ on the data captured. In short, this data processing of research data is in my view the learning process and does not strictly speaking form part of the research process. The learning process takes the output from research and then turns it into knowledge.

Where this gets really interesting, is if you ask the question …

Ok, so what will take ‘Knowledge’ and transform it into ‘Wisdom’?

Someone (not always a researcher) later identifies a possible opportunity to take another step and apply the knowledge in such a way as to yield a commercial or social gain. And so, within ‘Knowledge’, the process of ‘Innovation’ is born. That knowledge if applied to an existing process, often seeks to remove any waste from the system which does not add value for customers.

So, putting it all together, the saying (in my personal view) should go something like this …

“Research takes money and turns it into information,

Learning takes information and turns it into knowledge,

Innovation takes knowledge and turns it into actionable wisdom to apply knowledge to opportunities to realise commercial value or social gain.”


Note To Those With An Interest:

Its now 3 years later in 2017, and just as my learning has progressed since 2014, version 1 of the ‘Pyramid of Wisdom’ has moved forward also.  The ‘Pyramid of Wisdom’ is now joined by an inverted ‘Pyramid of Skills’ to clearly show the link than between both and its application in ‘Innovation’, ‘Learning’, ‘Experimentation’ and ‘Research’ activities.  I’ve also refined the starting points of each layer to show what underlays each layer within each pyramid.


Pyramid Of Wisdom v2


My New Tool

I am now moving forward to test this new tool during coaching, training and workshop facilitation to establish its value (if any) to inspire greater creative, innovative problem solving and system thinking.  All comments and questions are most welcome.







(as at 18th May 2018)

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More About …

Brendon McLoughlin

Brendon McLoughlin is a Technical Project Manager and Lean Black Belt Innovator. Brendon has extensive design and development experience across technology based businesses, product manufacturing and service provider industries, social and not-for-profit organisations.

Brendon has over 20 years of experience within start-ups, SME’s and global enterprises. Brendon continues to build a reputation as a creative lean thinker, innovator, researcher, blogger and evangelist. Brendon’s chosen area of research focuses on 'Rural Innovation' and Capacity, Capability and Competency building and cultivating creative core cultures in small high performance teams from small organisations to realise greater commercial value and social gain.


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