The role of wisdom in the coach/mentor -AI partnership

David Clutterbuck​​​​​​​

In all the major models of human maturity, two qualities recur constantly: wisdom and connectedness. Wisdom, as exemplified by the original mentor, Athene, relates to the process of reflection upon and learning from experience. The scope of wisdom is therefore associated with and to some extent limited by the range of experiences, to which a person is exposed, either directly or vicariously, intendedly or unintendedly. Connectedness is about how we link our experiences and how we absorb new knowledge from contexts, with which we are not familiar. The more connections we have, the greater the opportunity to recognise new patterns, metaphors and analogies from outside our known worlds, which stimulate new perspectives and insights into our core reservoirs of wisdom.

One of the markers, which can be proposed to indicate maturity both as a person and as a coach-mentor, is how people approach and absorb new knowledge. Early-stage coach-mentors tend to snatch up new models and approaches like shiny baubles. They may embrace them uncritically and discretely, without seeing the wider connectedness that puts them into context. More mature practitioners tend to be more critical and more selective in what they chose to absorb, seeing it in the context not only of how it interfaces with coaching or mentoring, but in how it relates to multiple, different, other bodies of knowledge. Some of these bodies of knowledge may be closely connected to their core of wisdom, others much less so.

We can distinguish here between narrow, broad and multi-dimensional wisdom. Narrow wisdom is typified by functional expertise — for example, in aeronautical engineering or international taxation. It sees connections primarily within a sphere of experience. Broad wisdom tends to be found in people, who are superb observers of life. People with this kind of wisdom see connections and parallels between contexts that have personal meaning to them. (For lovers of classic whodunit stories, think Father Brown or Miss Marple!)

Multi-dimensional wisdom incorporates both of these but includes also a restless curiosity for learning from any and all facets of human exploration, experience and knowledge. It is the territory of the polymath, who sees connections between art, science, history and many other disciplines. It is, in effect, meta-wisdom and the archetype we might point to here is Michelangelo.

A useful analogy might be with bubbles. In narrow wisdom, the observer sits on the inside of the sphere, able to see everything in this space in the round. In broad wisdom, the observer looks both inward and outward, into surrounding bubbles. His or her bubble is static among them. In meta-wisdom, the observer’s sphere moves amongst many bubbles, harvesting them for insights that expand his or her own bubble.

So, what has all this got to do with Artificial Intelligence? Meta-wisdom has never been easier to access. The web allows us to seek and find connections to an unprecedented extent, largely driven by learning algorithms. As we learn to partner with AI, and our AI partners learn to anticipate how we construct and use wisdom, they will be able to explore many, many more spheres of knowledge than we can currently encompass, seeking out those, upon which we might usefully draw and summarising just enough for us to decide which to follow through. For many years, now, I have made a habit of browsing in book stores amongst shelves, where the subjects are closed books (literally) to me. It’s surprising (well, not any more) how often I find inspiration there. AI can soon do a lot of this for me, only more efficiently and not just when I happen to be around a bookshop.

As with every other aspect of the coach/mentor – AI partnership, the challenge for the coach or mentor is going to be how to moderate the helpfulness of the AI partner, so that it does not become overwhelming. The challenge for the AI is that existing algorithms, as used by Amazon and regular search engines, learn from patterns of interest we have already unconsciously established. But meta-wisdom takes us into areas we don’t know we might be interested in – less prediction than instinction. The co-learning between the coach or mentor and their AI support will help with yet another aspect of wisdom – the integration of knowledge and understanding about ourselves with knowledge and understanding of the wonderfully complex and diverse multiple bubbles of the worlds around us.

David Clutterbuck

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