Kilkenomics: Knowledge Speaks, Wisdom Listens

Kilkenomics panel

“Models are useful hypotheses guiding rough maps of the terrain”

Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2008 for models and thinking on a particular field. He has also had a unique platform for an Economics professor in writing a twice-weekly column for the NY Times for twenty years.

This weekend I was privileged to listen to Paul Krugman, Dan Ariely and Yanis Varoufakis, moderated by David McWilliams, muse on “The Life and Death of Economics” at Kilkenomics. As David said in introducing his guests, if he had started with a blank page and though who might he like to have discuss the future of Economics, he could not have picked a better group. In short, these three individuals are absolute rock stars in the field.

Now, if we think about our image of rockstars, we might have expected them to be egocentric, pronouncing with great certainty that their models are the answer, perhaps interrupting the others and arguing and even dismissing their thinking.

And yet, these luminaries were humble, respectful, warm, open, enthusiastic, and certainly enjoying themselves.

One phrase that illustrates this was that Paul Krugman, when talking about the certainty some Economists seem to have, said about economic models that they are: “Useful hypotheses guiding rough maps of the terrain”.

According to Paul, at Bachelor’s Degree level students of Economic theory feel they are learning ideas and models that allow them to pronounce with certainty what will happen. Krugman’s view is that the more you learn, the less you take what you learn seriously. He also said that “if you think you know with certainty why something happened, you are illustrating that you don’t know what you are talking about”.

Earlier in the day, Krugman also used the phrase “the map is not the territory”, a phrase that also leapt out to me from studying NLP and that I wrote about here. In NLP the reference is to language and thus references what we hear when we listen to others.

In listening to these four brilliant and very different economists talk, my key takeaway goes back to that thought from my friend Chip Conley, master of distillation.

Knowledge Speaks. Wisdom Listens.

Chip Conley, author of Wisdom at Work – The Making of a Modern Elder

It has been a privilege to be at Kilkenomics once again, to listen.

Also published on Medium.