August 2, 2006
The Master's Program
The Point of View - A Weekly Commentary by Bob Shank

Dear Marketplace Friend,

This weekly column has been going out for over 15 years. It started as a facsimile-distributed piece; back then, it was the Fax of Encouragement. In 1990, faxes were "in." It was an all-night mechanical nightmare to trigger that baby to "send" automatically, to hundreds - then, thousands - of recipients.

It's a day late, but it's not a dollar short. Point of View is "complimentary" (a high-class word for "free"), so there's no "customer service" line dedicated to hear complaints. Blame team travel schedules...

Today's subject: wisdom. A heavy matter for a midsummer column? It isn't the first time we've addressed wisdom in these inches, and it won't be the last. Wisdom isn't an occasional emphasis for us; in reality, it's the only value we - the team who facilitate The Master's Program - have to offer.

In the Information Age, it isn't surprising to find confusion about wisdom. Knowledge is expanding at a breakneck rate; in fact, the best calculations have knowledge doubling every 18 months, because of the extraordinary commitment to research and discovery in all disciplines, on all fronts, on every continent. Raw content is proliferating like amorous rabbits. But information - knowledge - is not wisdom.

Information is lifeless. It can be captured and archived on hard drives. Information is the focus of classrooms and libraries. It can be measured - in bytes and words and pages and volumes - and transferred. Instructors stand in the distribution chain, between the warehouses and the consumers. Knowledge Brokers put the right information together with the people who need it. They are important players in the present age... but, are they most important?

There's another breed of cat in the 21st Century universe. Not Knowledge Brokers; instead, they are Wisdom Sources. Rather than intermediaries who make connections, Wisdom Sources bring experience-based mentoring to those who will, ultimately, succeed them in the great relay journey of life. Knowledge is about information; Wisdom is about transformation. Knowledge Brokers are simply purveyors; Wisdom Sources are replicators. According to Jesus, "... every disciple, when he is fully trained, will be just like his teacher." (Luke 6:40). Classroom instructors have no intention of replicating themselves; mentors aspire to nothing less.

In the last ten years, a new niche has emerged in the professional services sector. "Coaching" is no longer a spacey concept; in fact, subcategories within the space have developed quickly. Many corporations today routinely provide funding for executive coaches for their up-and-coming future stars. But, are coaches the same as mentors?

If you're shopping for a coach, it's likely you'll consider the credentials that certify the competitors. Training enterprises sprang up quickly, offering on-line skill development for people who felt called to coach. Virtual classrooms allowed men and women with aspirations to become pros in the nascent field of coaching. The qualification for coaching became a certificate on the wall, heralding the completion of a set of progressive learnings in a field that is now self-defined - and self-regulated. Today, many coaches work to make their clients capable of accomplishing things that they - the coach - have never themselves attempted. No experience necessary...

Mentors are different. They claim no expertise beyond their experience. Mentor's subjects are "more caught than taught," because "you cannot impart that which you do not possess" (both quotes from one of my mentors, Dr. Howard Hendricks). Paul seemed to limit his value to his proven performance, as well. His advice? "Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me - put into practice." (Philippians 4:9) And, "... Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." (1 Corinthians 11:1). He directed one of his protégés, Titus, in that approach: "In everything, set them an example by doing what is good..." (Titus 2:7).

Intriguing, isn't it? At a time when knowledge/information is exploding, the availability of wisdom/mentoring is scarce. Instruction and training - to transfer knowledge and skills - is everywhere, while experience-based mastery seems like an increasingly-scarce resource.

Mentoring is our ministry; it's all we do. One of our intended outcomes is to expose and deploy a wave of accomplished leaders who have much to offer a next generation, based on their life experience rather than their acquired information. Have you been mentored? Is it time to start passing your wisdom on?

Bob Shank

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