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Practical Wisdom: The Right Way To Do the Right Thing
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Practical Wisdom: The Right Way To Do the Right Thing

3.56 of 5 stars 3.56  ·  rating details  ·  252 ratings  ·  43 reviews
A reasoned yet urgent call to embrace and protect the essential, practical human quality that has been drummed out of our lives: wisdom.

It's in our nature to want to succeed. It's also human nature to want to do right. But we've lost how to balance the two. How do we get it back?

Practical Wisdom can help. "Practical wisdom" is the essential human quality that combines th
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published December 30th 2010 by Riverhead Hardcover (first published December 16th 2010)
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Joshua Buhs
They want to restore faith in American institutions--healthcare, law, banking--without instaling more regulations or offering incentives, both of which are too blunt, they say. There answer is to turn to Aristotle's sense of practical wisdom, phronesis. Phronesis is a product of experience and used to reach pragmatic ends. Examples include judges making clever sentences, doctors diagnosing and curing ills, etc. They argue that rulebound institutions prevent this kind of entrepreneurial experimen ...more
Kater Cheek
This pop science book differs from most of its kind in that it relies heavily on the wisdom of the ancient Greeks, specifically Aristotle. Basically, it's a treatise on (like the subtitle says) how to do the right thing in the right way--how to be wise.

Wisdom is one of those things where you don't even realize how much you lack until you're old enough to be a little wise. Who wouldn't want to read a book that helped them make the right decisions? I did. This is exactly the kind of book I like to
Jud Barry
I know I shouldn’t purloin dust-cover blurbs for a book review. Of course they exist to puff the book: “irresistible book, one that every politician, CEO, parent, and citizen in America should read,” “pioneering work,” “a rare and rewarding book,” “must-read new treasure trove.”

But there, I did it. Those phrases come from the blurbs on the back of “Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing.”

Which, I know: the title sounds a little self-helpisch, doesn’t it? It’s a shame, that. As muc
Fred Zimny
A well written analysis why we have to be aware of the consequences of using rules and rewards. One might consider it as a reasoned call to break down the broken system that makes professional life ineffective and often uninspiring. Instead – Schwartz proposes – we have to embrace the essential and practical human quality that can be developed in our lives: Wisdom.

>Some of the issues the authors address in the book are a result of framing. Or as often stated in this blog, constructing a conte
Reading this book fed my soul.

It argues that we need to have more empathy, freedom to rely on personal judgment, and wisdom of experience in our daily interactions and in our larger institutional structures, when instead we are bound by unbending rules and demoralizing incentives that erode any sense of humanness—concern for others or the greater good—in our interactions. Indeed, they argue that we are weaving an ever tightening net of rules and incentives around ourselves that is draining what
Greg Linster
In Practical Wisdom Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe explore the Aristotelian notion of practical wisdom (phronesis). The book touches on some philosophy, but in a very rudimentary sense. Essentially, the book illuminates the problems that come with removing practical wisdom from several of our important institutions. Schwartz and Sharpe argue that we live in a rule and incentive obsessed culture that has crowded out practical wisdom.

In the end, they argue that Aristotle was right: to flourish,
Arnav Shah
I've always felt that much of the world lacks humanity because we put strict rules in front of using our heads. It appears Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe feel the same way and dive deep into the way our institutions have become structured and dehumanized. They're thorough in their examples and cover the justice system, the healthcare system, the banking industry, and the educational system. Their explanations include a walk through neuroscience and philosophy alike. I experienced the audioboo ...more
Troy Blackford
This book is an examination of the idea that it is increasingly difficult in many occupations to make your own judgment about what is the best way to handle things, often to the detriment of the job being done. Medical jobs, teaching, judicial decisions, and the legal trade are some of the focuses. This also takes a broader look about what it means to be 'practically wise,' a phrase which I had to try very hard to stop my brain from parsing as 'quite nearly wise,' even towards the end of the boo ...more
Byron Wright
The central thesis in this book is that the excessive use of strict rules and incentives has unintended consequences. This results in people losing sight of the real goals within their organization and blindly following the rules or working only towards the incentive.

The other part of the book is the idea that morality (right and wrong) are learned by example much more than rules. For example, when is it appropriate or inappropriate to lie (white lies or sure honey you look great in that dress).
John Buckler
Here's the thing with every sociology book I've ever read. It's disgustingly interesting, there are great real-life examples backing up the theories presented, it's informative, and I get bored 1/3 of the way through. I like everything, but I feel like it's the same point being made over and over and over again. I wish that these books would just be 40-50 page articles.
A good beginning that peters out to a disappointing ending

Schwartz and Sharpe take Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics as their starting point, suggesting that better application of the principles in it would make institutions work better and restore trust in those institutions, as well as making the people who form those institutions better and more fulfilled.

The first section is strong, and unpicks some of Aristotle's ideas around wisdom using a couple of case studies to illustrate these. Their
Nirmal S
Because I needed the practical wisdom to prevent the dog from biting my ear off.

How you enjoy the book is a measure of your practical wisdom as well - do you rather want to go through the pages like a Bolt of lightning and add one more to your finished shelf? Or do you want to immerse yourself in the book and be changed by it? The book doesn't really incite any major a-ha moments but it does have its beautiful takeaways. I know that I needn't waste my time defining what 'good' is (which is impo
Zach Olsen
Great explanation on how incentives and rules are crowding out wisdom and how wisdom is developed. This book goes beyond the book How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer and explains how we decide to do the right thing.
Michael Carlson
This is an important book and a very good read. Like muckraking journalists one hundred years ago, Schwartz and Sharpe expose our culture's current failures to promote "practical wisdom" in the people and institutions where it's needed most. Although focusing on law, medicine, education, and finance, their writing and insights make clear we all both need and suffer--literally, suffer--from a lack of practical wisdom in our lives.
But my summary makes the book sound darker and (even) more depressi
This book covers, in a less academic, but very appealing way, the same territory that Stephen Toulmin does in Return to Reason. In its extensive examples of practical wisdom in law, medicine, teaching and financial services, it makes the concepts very accessible.

Phronesis =Prudence=practical wisdom. This virtue is rooted in how we know what the right choice or decision is in a particular situation. Wisdom is not a universal, as Plato believed, but lies in the context of particular circumstances.
Michael Fong
Thematically: Are we more than this harsh world of goal-setting and cash dreams? That we ask, we aren't. The book reveals so in two steps. First, it shows us our dejection, with studies of lawyers and doctors marching disillusioned through redtape to dollared demigods. Second, it shows us hope, with successful projects that balance profit with humanity.

Stylistically: The case studies are nicely fleshed out and illuminating, lending us the experience of practical wisdom, the revered notion here.
David Geller
Fabulous book with wonderful insights. Schwartz correctly points out the inherent limitations of using rules or incentives to try and influence behavior. Rules can prevent the most catastrophic of outcome but are often too blunt an instrument for wise decisions. Incentives are easily subverted. Schwartz provides some wonderful suggestions about how to create a culture that nurtures wise decision making in education, health care, and law. Definitely worth reading.
this book is on ethics and understandably dry for that reason.

the author argues on why ethics is important and highlights the various dilemmas we're in from the teaching profession, lawyers, bankers, doctors etc...

then we will always have canny outlaws (those who defy the pressure, financial gains to do the right things) but this group of people isnt enough to create meaningful change. The author suggested institutional change and highlighted various initiatives that have already taken place in
Jeff Ford
This book was a tough read. It seems to be concerned with what could be called bureaucratic ethics. Not my cup of tea. I was looking for a book that helps define what wisdom is on a fundamental and universal level. At moments I agreed with the authors that decision makers should be allowed discretion so that they may exercise wisdom. On the other hand, I would that many of these decisions be left to the individual rather than left to the practical wisdom of some higher authority.
Part one was very well done. The remaining 2/3 of the book can be summed up as "standardized testing is bad, HMOs are bad, bankers/Wall Street are bad" If there would have been one mention of Bush, I would have thought I was reading a transcript from MSNBC.
Danny Yang
"Acting wisely demands that we be guided by the proper aims or goals of a particular activity. Aristotle's word for the purpose or aim of a practice was telos. The telos of teaching is to educate students; the telos of doctoring is to promote health and relieve suffering; the telos of lawyering is to pursue justice. Every profession — from banking to social work — has a telos, and those who excel are those who are able to locate and pursue it. So a good practitioner is motivated to aim at the te ...more
Excellent book that changed the way I think about the systems currently in place in education, medicine and life.
Nothing against these guys but I kept falling asleep...which affected my I used practical wisdom and ejected the 2nd disc.
Ian Billick
An interesting book with some intriguing ideas about how institutions work/fail. Lots of food for thought. A bit pedestrian at times. But I found myself thinking about it a lot, which is always a good sign.
I can see why some people accused this book of being verbose. It was especially difficult to get started. But overall it was well researched, had quite a few real life examples to demonstrate ideas and became more engaging the deeper I got into it. I think it might have been more helpful to do a brief summary at the end of each chapter to bring together all of the points and to serve for "quick reference." The last chapter was excellent and did a superb job of bring the entire book to a conclusi ...more
Jan 15, 2011 Richard marked it as to-read
Recommended to Richard by: KQED Forum
The authors were interviewed on KQED Forum:
In their new book, Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to do the Right Thing, professors Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe call for a renaissance in contemporary professional ethics based on the Aristotelian notion of practical wisdom. We speak with the authors about this “master virtue,” and gain insight into exercising and cultivating it.
Listen or download the MP3 here.
Barbara Lovejoy
I just happened to hear this book mentioned while the TV was on, and I was doing something else. The title caught my attention and then the more they talked about it the more interested I became. I debated whether to give the book a 5 star or a 4 star. There were parts of the book that didn't interest me too much because they didn't apply to me but I loved the parts that did apply. In fact, I plan to read the book again and take notes before I have to return it to the library.
Interesting premise of good decision making -- informed by experience and knowledge, but seemed like such a no-brainer. Isn't that how we all make decisions? Avoiding arbitrariness and also relying on common sense rather than a prescribed set of rules is the best way to proceed. "Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." (Emerson)
While we're caught in a political cycle where both candidates claim their approach to incentives and regulations (carrot and stick) is the best way, maybe there is a better way to ask the question. It turns out that with an amazing brain function that scientists refer to as "empathy" we have all the tools we need to answer the difficult questions.
170.44 I listened to this on audio but had I read it I would have skipped pages. Lots of repetition. I would have liked more solutions and fewer stories of the problems. Still, I learned some things and three stars means "I liked it" though I won't recommend into anyone.
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an American psychologist. Schwartz is the Dorwin Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action at Swarthmore College. He frequently publishes editorials in the New York Times applying his research in psychology to current events.
More about Barry Schwartz...
The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less The Costs of Living Psychology of Learning and Behavior The Battle for Human Nature: Science, Morality and Modern Life Anleitung Zur Unzufriedenheit

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“Emotions properly trained and modulated, Aristotle told his readers, are essential to being practically wise: We can experience fear, confidence, desire, anger, pity, and generally any kind of pleasure and pain either too much or too little, and in either case not properly. But to experience all this at the right time, toward the right objects, toward the right people, for the right reason, and in the right manner—that is the median and the best course, the course that is a mark of virtue.” 1 likes
“There is no more effective way to destroy the leadership potential of young officers and noncommissioned officers than to deny them opportunities to make decisions appropriate for their assignments.” 0 likes
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