Today I have given my last class in the MBA of this course at IESE Business School and it occurred to me that instead of going through the learning that the students may have acquired, it seemed better to thank them for everything I learned from them since January. At first it seemed a bit risky to me because I have been helping students to discover, debate and decide for many years and perhaps my learning could be few. However, when I thought about it I discovered that there were many, many and it was a great surprise.
The class discussions have been lively and very interesting this year, especially in the workshops, where each group tried to convince the others of the correctness of the decisions of the company or brand that they had chosen to exemplify some important leadership issue. My role, as almost always, was that of the coach who organized the game. But my mind had to speed up because the information from each other was piling up and relating many ideas to each other is not easy. In the end they expected me to pull an ace up my sleeve and turn that discussion into something tangible, something practical, something they could use.
This complex process should seem natural to an IESE professor because that’s what we dedicate ourselves to, but when I started to think about the details I discovered that my learning had been extraordinary. Today I have told you in the middle of a sepulchral silence very alien to our usual sessions. And we have finished the subject with great and prolonged applause and cheers.
I think my great discovery has been not to become a scholar but a disciple, to show them that I am the one who has learned and to be able to demonstrate it ostensibly. And I have been perplexed by his thunderous reaction.
Wisdom is built by paying close attention to others and putting together the loose pieces they give us.
You could ask me if what I learned I already knew before or if it was completely new to me and I couldn’t answer you. Perhaps with a maybe yes, maybe no… Discovering is a process of enlightenment because it is necessary to be present, pending and extremely attentive at that moment in order to perceive the detail that makes the difference between what we already knew and what we have just understood. Without mindfulness, wisdom does not manifest.
Today I am happier if possible because I think I have found a new explanation for what it means to grow older, because there are two paths on this journey: the first, the rough one, is the one taken by those who speak of retirement as a state of well-deserved rest. The second, the most complex, difficult and less common is access to wisdom.
Those who believe they deserve something are on the wrong path because in life you have to be and not deserve. Justifying in a thousand ways the gloating of living in a comfort zone is something that contradicts everything we should have learned, because it is the way to miss out on all the good that comes from innovation, creativity, discoveries and profound silence.
Instead, the second path is wisdom. In my short monastic life I met those elders who listened a lot, spoke little and were always in a state of deep attention. They were the wise! Curiously, they always showed surprise at what I was telling them from time to time as if I were a citizen of another planet. And today I understood why. They were looking for that little detail, that half-hidden word that completed what they already knew. They couldn’t miss anything because in the midst of my verbiage they believed they would find what would make them complete the circle of their thoughts and feelings.
Thinking about what I learned from them has done me a great deal of good because I have discovered that wisdom is built by paying close attention to others and putting together the loose pieces that they give us.
Xavier Oliver, professor at the IESE Business School.