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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

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  636 ratings  ·  73 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
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published December 30th 2010 by Riverhead Books (first published December 16th 2010)
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Sep 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Joshua Buhs
Mar 22, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: b12, non-fiction
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
Apr 22, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Arnav Shah
May 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Raz Pirata
“Wisdom is not the mysterious gift of a handful of sages, but a capacity that we all have.”

I remember slipping out my bedroom window and running over to my friend’s house to watch Spike Lee’s classic film, Do The Right Thing. I don’t know why, but I guess I felt like I just had to watch it. Something in the title captivated me. A simple four words that inspire a headache of questions and complexities.

Do the right thing. What does that even mean? And if we have trouble defining it, how in the goo
Jud Barry
Feb 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 mu
Nirmal Kartha
Jul 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Greg Linster
Nov 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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,
Zach Olsen
Jan 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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.
Feb 25, 2015 rated it liked it
I didn't love the book. It was full of anecdotes and no real research. He had some interesting ideas but didn't really go into depth. The main idea is to use "judgment;" don't just follow the rules and ignore the subtleties of individual situations. ...more
Science For The People
Featured on Skeptically Speaking show #114 on May 29, 2011, during an interview with authors Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe. ...more
Jan 31, 2014 rated it did not like it
Nothing against these guys but I kept falling asleep...which affected my I used practical wisdom and ejected the 2nd disc.
Wibisono Yamin
Dec 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Good book that gives an alternative view to us in striving the gestalt of being "workers" in current technological era.
"A moral network is tuned up by the relevant community (parents, teachers, friends). If the community is out of tune, the network will be badly tuned too (meaning less). Thus, you can’t make better teachers, doctors, and lawyers by simply telling them how to care for students, patients, and clients. They have to watch you doing it the right way, and you have to be correcting th
Nov 14, 2017 rated it liked it
Schwartz and Sharpe reach back to an ancient understanding of wisdom, that of Aristotle, to build a case that wisdom is experiential. It is acquired through practice and with the right balance of rules and learning through experience and doing.
They first build a case of what they believe wisdom to be, describing cases where judgement and experience, not rules and conscious rationalization, drive decision making. They then describe some of the psychological functions that occur in our thinking a
Nathan Hicks
May 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Jobs, callings, professions - whatever you call them - more seem to be falling under the category of professional work where autonomy is expected and mistakes are typically addressed through policy and structure. This book asks some excellent questions and suggests some unexpected answers.

It’s another source pointing to the idea that what can be automated will be automated, and what can’t be automated must be less rigid to ensure that passion and talent can manifest. How to balance this with ris
Jan 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Applies to modern institutions Aristotle's insight that wisdom is tied to each particular decision/problem and is amassed through experience. Saying that bureaucratic and organisational structures based around rules and incentives undermine our ability to apply this practical wisdom, along with the meaning we derive from doing so.

Many of the examples are over used in pop-science. The Israeli childcare late fees case study was obvious.
A thematic dissection of what is wrong with the institutions of today.

Interesting, but somewhat vacuous. Nicomachean Ethics is a somewhat more comprehensive guide to living a good life. What this book does is set it in the modern context and elaborate on how modern institutions divorced people from meaning in life.

I find it a little strange to isolate out practical wisdom as a topic, without elaborating much on arete and eudaimonia.
Aug 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is an amazing read. All managers or supervisors should take a look at this one. My only regret on this is that it was published in 2011 and there is not an update on some of the examples given. I highly recommend this one.
Joe Thacker
Jun 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
My rating is 5 stars.

How my rating works:

5 = Changed how I viewed the world
4 = A must read but not revolutionary
3 = I recommend to read
2 = Probably don’t read
1 = do not read.
Jacob Berg
Oct 08, 2019 rated it did not like it
Did not finish
Apr 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
Kristy  Barngrover Clear
Excellent take always but could have been edited quite a bit more. I really enjoyed discussing the concepts in relation to higher edu.
Oct 17, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
Troy Blackford
May 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 10, 2016 rated it it was ok
after reading, the first thought was "so what?"

it's a huge disappointment because ch1 gave such a good impression.

this book is saying "let's have the practical wisdom back and we're going to make a better society!" with disappointing supplies of reasons and evidence.

authors make practical wisdom sound like some sort of panacea, but doesn't really provide a good picture of itself. as far as i understand, it's the wisdom one learns from trial and error, pursuing his/her telos. telos being the purp
Michael Fong
Sep 13, 2012 rated it liked it
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.
Sue Lyle
Feb 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book takes Aristotle's ideas about phronesis (practical wisdom) and in laymen's terms makes the case for phronesis today. It is an easy read which distils important ideas and makes them Accessible to all. The case is well made that what we need more than ever is to trust that our doctors, teachers, lawyers and even bankers are capable of practical wisdom and if given autonomy can override our rule-governed public services and in the process restore ethics, pride in work and the desire to do ...more
Magnus Lidbom
People are inherently lazy, selfish and untrustworthy. They cannot be trusted to make good decisions on their own. In order to get them to do what they should, we must steer them by means of rules, punishments and incentives. The carrot and the stick. This, in a nutshell, seems to be the belief that guide most institutions today. It is a belief that increasingly permeates society. You likely believe it at some level. I know I did.

This book will walk you through how and why this belief is wrong.
Byron Wright
Apr 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
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).
Aug 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: wisdom, psychology
I think this book started out with great amount of excellence. It did it by identifying and defining Practical Wisdom by diving into Arsistoteles and his idea of it. Really great. Then it introduced some good examples of how to identify it, and how rules keep wisdom from flourishing. Then the middle part was a lot of examples of this (how rules put an end to wisdom), in many different fields of study (education, law, medicine, business etc.) - and here it kind of lost me by diving into a lot of ...more
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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.

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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.” 5 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.” 4 likes
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