30% of U.S. Workers Have Practical Wisdom

In a previous post, I discussed a wonderful TED talk by Barry Schwartz called Our Loss of Wisdom. Schwartz references what Aristotle called “practical wisdom,” the combination of moral will and moral skill.

As an analyst at heart, I decided to quantify practical wisdom. How? By creating two statements that are indicative of moral will and another two that reflect moral skill.

  • Moral will statements:
    • I have an obligation to help other people when I’m doing my job, even if it’s not part of my job description
    • I am willing to work harder or longer if my efforts will help other people
  • Moral skill statements:
    • I regularly do things that aren’t on my job description because they will help other people
    • I understand when it’s appropriate to break my company’s rules in order to help customers and other people

In the recent Temkin Group consumer benchmark study, we asked more than 5,000 U.S. employees if they agreed with those four statements. As you can see in the chart below:

  • More people agree with the moral will questions than the moral skill questions
  • We classified people as having moral will or skill if they agreed with both of the related statements. Sixty-nine percent have moral will, but only 36% have moral skill
  • When we looked at the combination of these skills, we found that 30% have practical wisdom—the combination of moral will and moral skill


I will continue to dig deeper into our dataset to understand the demographics and attitudes that go along with practical wisdom. So stay tuned.

The bottom line: When it comes to morality, there’s more will than skill

About Bruce Temkin, CCXP
I'm an experience (XM) management catalyst; helping organizations improve results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. I enjoy researching and speaking about these topics. I lead the Qualtrics XM Institute, which is the world's best job. We're igniting a global community of XM Professionals who are inspired and empowered to radically improve the human experience. To achieve this goal, my team focuses on thought leadership, training, and community building. My work is driven by a set of fundamental beliefs: 1) Everything starts and ends with human beings, so you need to understand how people think, feel, and behave; 2) XM is a discipline that needs to be woven throughout an organization's entire operating fabric; and 3) Building the XM discipline requires a combination of culture, competency, and technology.

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