The Wisdom Quadrants: A Dynamic Model of Holistic Wisdom.

March 19, 2022

The Wisdom Quadrants: A Dynamic Model of Holistic Wisdom.

May 29, 2023

Since returning from my MEA workshop in early December, I’ve focused on my daily journaling practice which begins with writing down The 8 Practices of Modern Elderhood: Noticing, Editing, Mastering, Purposing, Catalyzing, Connecting, Serving, and Presencing. I don’t journal about each practice each day, but I journal on one or more of them as they emerge in some important form during my day.

One day, while journaling about the practice of “catalyzing,” I came up with the idea of The Wisdom Quadrants. How did that happen? Keep in mind that at the beginning of the modern elder movement, Chip Conley defined modern elders as people who are “as curious as they are wise.” While at MEA, I took a book from the library back to my room. The title of the book was Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives and is written by Daniel J. Levitin. I thumbed through it but it was a long book so I put it aside, ordered it on Amazon, and began to read it after it showed up at my office back home. I found this gem on pages 26-27:

“IQ, the intelligence quotient, is a familiar metric. Increasingly, too, is EQ, the emotional intelligence quotient, thanks in part to the popular writings of Daniel Goleman. Cognitive scientists now talk about a third metric, CQ, the curiosity quotient, and it predicts life success as well as, and often better than IQ or EQ. [emphasis added]

Ponder that for a moment. It’s so cool that science backs up our learning about curiosity at MEA! And then there’s the point that CQ is as much or a better a predictor of success than IQ or EQ. (As an aside, after my experience at MEA, when I see the word "success," I immediately translate that word into “purpose.” Why? Success equals achievement-based living while purpose equals soul-based living. I prefer soul-based living.) In addition, our major theme for the week was Transitions and we heard about the “Transition Quotient,” TQ, something less well-known than any of the other “Qs.”

Then came a "Baja Aha" moment: IQ, EQ, CQ, and TQ. Four important sources of wisdom became four quadrants. Lo and behold: The Wisdom Quadrants! But one thing was missing: knowledge. Knowledge, when used appropriately, is certainly a source of wisdom. It seemed to me that the best fit for knowledge was in the quadrant with IQ. So, I re-defined Quadrant I as “IQ + Accumulated Knowledge.”

Then I began to wonder about the relationship between the quadrants. Are they separate cubicles of wisdom or are they dynamically related? Could growth in one quadrant enhance growth in another? I’m theorizing that the quadrants are dynamically related, based on a concept from Gestalt Therapy that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” as well as my experience of reflecting on how this seems to work in my own life. I believe that wisdom generated from one quadrant has an energizing relationship to wisdom generated in the other quadrants and one’s holistic wisdom is greater than the sum of the wisdom one possesses from each quadrant.

Wisdom Quadrant #1, Intelligence Quotient, IQ + Accumulated Knowledge.

IQ is the most well-known of The Wisdom Quadrants. IQ is based on standardized tests which were administered in childhood. It is generally understood as fixed for life. It is what it is. Accumulated Knowledge in this model is inclusive of all kinds of content knowledge and skills. Content knowledge includes the liberal arts (including literature, of course), the fine arts, technology (digital intelligence), vocational subject matter expertise, knowledge gleaned from one’s hobbies, various personal skills, and so forth. Of course, Accumulated Knowledge can grow over time. Quadrant 1 is the “brains” of wisdom.

Wisdom Quadrant #2: Emotional Intelligence Quotient, EQ

If Quadrant 1 is the "brains" of wisdom, Quadrant 2, Emotional Intelligence, is the "beating heart" of wisdom. Emotional Intelligence is the ability to understand and express your emotions in life-enhancing ways. In this model, Emotional Intelligence also provides the energy, the “life blood,” for curiosity (CQ) and the ability to effectively navigate transitions (i.e., mid-life edits), TQ. Emotional Intelligence is important for healthy interpersonal relationships and, internally, it is important for personal resilience when facing difficulties.

Wisdom Quadrant #3: Curiosity Quotient, CQ

As mentioned above, cognitive scientists have identified the importance of curiosity for personal success (read: purpose). The knowledge that you have accumulated (Quadrant I) can lead you to the doorstep of yet more wisdom as you seek, with a curious mind, more knowledge about a given subject. So, there is a relationship between Quadrant I and III. The same goes with Quadrant II. As modern elders can enhance their Emotional Intelligence through meditation, so also meditation, by quieting the “chatterbox mind,” can be helpful for increasing the Curiosity Quotient (Quadrant III). Curiosity is also enhanced by a patient process of Appreciative Inquiry. The better the listener, the higher the CQ, the poorer the listener the lower the CQ. When people are going through transitions (Quadrant IV), the very process of transitioning can generate CQ: “What’s next? How can I best prepare for it?”

Wisdom Quadrant #4: Transition Quotient, TQ

MEA is among very few organizations that speak of a Transition Quotient, TQ. But getting good at transitions, at “midlife editing,” is indispensable for holistic wisdom in modern elderhood. One could say that Quadrant IV is about Emotional Intelligence (EQ) “nesting into” a changing situation before birthing something new. Perhaps this quadrant can be known as the “birthing quadrant.” To be sure, this nesting-birthing process can be disruptive and painful from time to time and calls for even more attention to activities that make for good Emotional Intelligence. Because personal and professional transitions can be disorienting, like journeying in a strange land, it’s helpful to accumulate some knowledge (Quadrant I) about the transition process itself. An excellent resource is the MEA white paper The Anatomy of a Transition by Jeff Hamaoui and Kari Henley.

My journaling practice now includes reflections on The Wisdom Quadrants as well as the 8 Practices of Modern Elderhood.

May your wisdom grow dynamically and holistically as an individual and through relationships as you journey forward with the global community of the Modern Elder Academy.

Brad Jenson, CFP®, CIMA®, AIF®, is an MEA alum and was a parish pastor for over twenty years until doing a “midlife edit” and transitioning into financial services in 2002. Since 2009, he has served as a financial advisor with Duluth, Minn.–based Lake Superior Financial Services, Inc., which offers investment advisory services through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. Opinions expressed here are those of Brad and not necessarily those of Raymond James.

Raymond James is not affiliated with and does not endorse the opinions or services of the Modern Elder Academy. Securities offered through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc., member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advisory services are offered through Raymond James Financial Services Advisors, Inc. Lake Superior Financial Services, Inc. is not a registered broker/dealer and is independent of Raymond James Financial Services. 11 East Superior Street, Suite 544, Duluth, MN 55802. 218-625-2430.

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