7 ways to start transforming from a “knowledge” to “wisdom” worker

by | May 25, 2024 | Blog | 2 comments

Have you talked with any wise people lately, maybe even yourself? You should, especially since you and others may already be wisdom workers in training.

We’re entering the age of wisdom, leaving behind the knowledge economy, according to several wise people, including one of my favorites, Chip Conley. If you’re not familiar with him, he’s the best-selling author and founder of the Modern Elder Academy (MEA). Before that he served as the in-house “modern elder” to the three young founders of Airbnb after selling his boutique hotel firm, Joie de Vivre. He founded his firm, which was one of the U.S.’s first boutique hotel companies, when he was 26 years old.

Why wisdom over knowledge? Knowledge is everywhere these days, especially with the explosion of generative AI, which makes wisdom more advantageous. Those who can harvest wisdom either through themselves or from others can get valuable insights to apply in their work and life.

What’s the difference between wisdom and knowledge? Basically, wisdom is applied knowledge that’s purposefully shared. “Information is knowledge which is merely acquired and stored up; wisdom is knowledge operating in the direction of powers to the better living of life,” according to the philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey.

In other words, you can be knowledgeable without being wise. But you can’t be wise without some knowledge. For example, you may know how to do hard things, such as tell someone difficult news. However, wisdom is knowing when to have that conversation and in what circumstances so the individual will clearly hear you. (For example, at a minimum, choose a time and spot where you won’t be interrupted or feel rushed to run to another appointment; make sure neither one of you is hungry; and provide psychological safety.) You want to ensure individuals feel that you respect them, as well as value and care for them. And when you prepare in this personalized manner, you’re more equipped to do hard things in a human-centered way.

What can you learn from a modern elder? Chip views “wisdom” more expansively than the Dewey and dictionary definitions do. Chip calls wisdom the “metabolized experience which leads to distilled compassion.” That’s because the way wise people offer compassion feels customized to the person receiving it. And that compassion can be for more than an individual; it can be for the planet and everyone else.

Chip was one of the featured speakers at the recent Institute of Coaching (IOC) Conference I attended in Boston. The conference’s theme was wisdom, specifically “Journey from Coaching Competence to Wisdom.” Chip and Soren Gorhamer, author and founder of Wisdom 2.0,  spoke about “The Power of Wisdom in the Age of AI.” Chip also explained a new role for coaching: “Midwife for Midlife Wisdom” based on his latest book, Learning to Love Midlife: 12 Reasons Why Life Gets Better With Age.

In both talks, Chip conveyed the wisdom he’s earned through his life-long learnings, his adventures, his losses, his humility, deep listening, his health, and regular reflection. He demonstrated that wisdom is not something one teaches; instead, you share your wisdom with others for the social good.

Chip’s words and stories resonated with me because of my familiarity with his metamorphosis over the years. I’ve admired Chip Conley and his work ever since I first saw him speak almost 20 years ago at an event sponsored by the publisher Berrett-Koehler. Chip had just finished writing one of his first books, Marketing That Matters: 10 Practices to Profit Your Business and Change the World co-authored with Eric Friedenwald-Fishman.

While leading Joie de Vivre, Chip and his team operated the hotels with a special flair. Each hotel had a distinct name, look, and personality. The company was also known for their human-centered employment and leadership practices – before human-centered was even a popular term. I frequently featured many of their communication techniques and leadership practices in the employee communication newsletter I wrote at the time.

Over the years, I’ve read several of his books, including PEAK: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow.  I was impressed and amazed that he had time to write books as well as serve as the CEO of the second-largest boutique hotel brand in the United States.

As I listened to Chip talk at this spring’s IOC conference, I realized he’s not reinventing himself or his career as many of us do. Instead of morphing, he’s regenerating. That is, he’s renewing and restoring himself to become a wiser version of Chip. He’s still in the hospitality industry; however, he’s following his own advice on practicing wisdom. He’s expanded his role by now helping individuals better connect with themselves. As a result, individuals who now take part in his Modern Elder Academy are able to navigate transitions, cultivate their purpose, and tap into their wisdom much better and more quickly than they could do on their own.

What can you do to become a wisdom worker? If you want to be known as a “wisdom worker,” you can first focus on taking these seven actions consistently. They’re based on Chip’s suggestions at the IOC conference combined with his Wisdom@Work: The Making of a Modern Elder book along with my interpretations:

  1. Be a life-longer learner who always remains curious.
  2. Be observant, ask questions of yourself and others, and listen deeply.
  3. Look up and out more, especially across time zones, industries, generations, and cultures.
  4. Think and act more holistically and systematically, looking for dots to connect.
  5. Expand your emotional intelligence.
  6. Tap into your creativity, especially by questioning your mindset and your actions.
  7. Be comfortable with ambiguity and “both/and” thinking.

Once you’re regularly applying these practices, you can add more. The goal is to distill wisdom to others. And as you do so, you become a better human and contribute to a better world. You’re then better prepared to help others grow even more in awareness, compassion, and wisdom.


  1. Julia Schoenberger

    Liz, thank you for this valuable perspective. This will help frame what I will bring to an organization as I look for my next work opportunity.

  2. Liz Guthridge

    Thanks, Julia. You were already wise when we worked together years ago so this is definitely a situation of you reframing.

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