Wisdom Explorer™

About Wisdom Explorer

wisdom2Wisdom Explorer™ is tool used in leadership development and educational settings to promote reflective thought and dialogue in support of wise actions. Each of 101 cards contains a wisdom quotation about leadership, learning, and life. Wisdom Explorer works by taking wisdom drawn from around the globe and across the ages and putting it into the middle of a creative conversation.

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Introductory webinars for Explorers and Essentials

CCL Labs Webinar Tutorial Series Archive 2016-2017

Conversations for Creative Leadership


Transitioning to the Third Act

Check out the great work of Nick Owen and Edward Kelly in the Third Act Conferences and Retreats!

owenFriday January 20th (1800) – Sunday January 22nd (1530), 2017

The Third Act Retreat: Transitioning to the Third Act
Facilitators: Dr Edward Kelly, Nick Owen & Annette Hennessy
The Abbey, Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire

A weekend working with our own stories of transition, our stages of development, and the ancient insights of The Elder Tales in our journey to What’s Next for us? A residential weekend of craic and inquiry in a delightful rural setting.

Single: £495; Shared: £445 per person; Non-residential: £395 (including lunches & dinners)

To reserve your place contact nick@nickowen.net or edward@thethirdact.ie



The From Here to There (FHT) Model of Human Development

The From Here to There (FHT) Model frames development as a long-term journey:

FHT model

From Here to There Model applied to a life journey

Starting with:

“Where are you from?”
Origins, identities, communities


“Where are you now (here)?”
Present state, presencing, observation, reflection, assessment


“Where are you going (to there)?”
Toward a desired future state, aspirations, visions, strategies, goals, dreams, and possibilities.


Leadership Culture: A Leadership Essential



From Here to There: The Young African Leader Initiative (YALI)

Sam Ray has just returned from Kenya where he, Kathy Vaughan and Sam Kasera facilitated a final round of  Leadership and Self-Awareness workshops for USAID’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI).

From Here to There with YALI Leaders

From Here to There with YALI Leaders

Approximately 400 leaders from East and Central Africa have now been through this Center for Creative Leadership workshop (Addis Ababa office) in Nairobi.

The two-day workshop was built around the CCL F-H-T Framework. Every module mapped to a part of their life journey:
a) Where I have come from (FROM)
b) Where I find myself now (HERE)
c) Where my team and I are going (THERE)
d) How I got here (FROM to HERE)
e) How my team and I will get there (HERE to THERE).

Participants mapped their learning on the walls in real time, resulting in 400 unique ‘selfies’ of these young peoples’ leadership journeys. The YALI program has offered rigorous, large-scale testing of the From-Here-To There framework and never fails to generate perspective and insight for users.

The DAC Framework: Creating shared direction, alignment, and commitment

quoteHow would you know if leadership is happening in a team, in a workgroup, on a task force, or across the organization? Look for three important outcomes: direction, alignment and commitment (DAC).

Making Leadership Happen, Cindy McCauley



Dialogue by putting something in the middle

Dialogue is a reflective conversation engaging the multiple perspectives of a number of people to explore assumptions and create new meaning. Create dialogue by putting objects in the middle of amediated conversation. Meaning becomes projected onto the object. Images work very well. You can use photos, art, stories, Visual Explorer and other Explorer tools, mementos, videos, graphics, and so on.

When people get good at this, they don’t need a physical object—they can put a topic (a challenge, a problem, an idea) in the middle.

As the Star Model graphic illustrates, multiple layers of the topic are explored from many angles (multiple perspectives).

Try This (more…)

Vertical leadership development for a complex world

Horizontal development is about adding more knowledge, skills, and competencies. It’s about what you think.transformations

Vertical development is about the ability to think and act in more complex ways. It’s about how you think. It’s about maturity, and  growing “up” and increasing one’s “depth.”

Two excellent white papers on this topic by CCL’s Nick Petrie describe why vertical development is essential for effective leadership: Future Trends in Leadership Development, and, Vertical Leadership Development. The Transformations™ tool embodies this model in a practical, user-friendly way. (more…)

Leadership Beyond Boundaries and mediated dialogue

Leadership Explorer tools, and especially Visual Explorer, have been key to our Leadership Beyond Boundaries initiative, where they work by putting something in the middle of a creative conversation (mediated dialogue):

quoteImagine our world if we worked to create better leadership. Might we have fewer wars, would there be less hunger and disease, would more people recognize their talents and realize their potential, would we solve problems more creatively and effectively, and would we embrace and leverage the diversity that defines humankind? >> read more about Leadership Beyond Boundaries

Integrating Social Media in Youth Leadership Training

This field report is from Nadja Shashe, team member of the CCL Addis Ababa, Ethiopia office and inventor of the Social Media Station.

YV4P 4

quoteA target group within the Leadership Beyond Boundaries initiative is youth. To get their attention and create a sustainable outreach, our team in Addis Ababa is integrating social media in youth leadership training programs.

One example of this effort is the Social Media Station that we invented for the Youth Voices for Peace project in Nakuru, Kenya.

social media station (more…)

Wisdom Explorer™ used to open a discussion or introduce a leadership development program

David Magellan Horth writes …

“I did this with a group of students and faculty at Birmingham Southern College.

We were sitting in a circle so that made the beginning of the discussion a little more intimate and safe.

I split a Wisdom Explorer deck in two and passed one half to my left and the other two my right.  Each person was invited to spend only 15 seconds finding a quote that resonated for him or her self.  After everyone had selected a card, they introduced themselves by saying their name, and their affiliation (in this case their field of study or teaching).

Each person read their quote, and said why it resonated for them.

It worked wonderfully and became a rapid yet intimate opening – somewhat like introductions I have where I have used Visual Explorer images in a similar way.”

Leadership Explorer tools in Leadership at the Peak

Here’s a story of Wisdom Explorer in combination with Visual and Metaphor Explorers, from our colleague Dave Altman. Dave is an early adopter and shaper of the Leadership Explorer™ tool series. Dave is EVP of Research, Innovation and Product Development, at the Center for Creative Leadership.

‘When participants enter the room, they are dazzled with a potpourri of stimuli that gives them a shot of energy and piques their curiosity… ‘

CCL offers Leadership at the Peak, a program for C-level senior leaders from organizations around the globe. One of the challenges we have in this program, and others we run, is to build in enough time for participants to reflect on the data they receive ,to analyze the experiences they have had during the program, and to set goals for the future. In LAP we now provide participants with a few hours of relatively unstructured reflection time preceding an intense day of both peer feedback and one-on-one executive coaching.

The following approach, in my experience, enhances the effectiveness of this period of reflection. Prior to participants’ arrival, I spread throughout the room cards from Wisdom Explorer, Leadership Metaphor Explorer and Visual Explorer. When participants enter the room, they are dazzled with a potpourri of stimuli that gives them a shot of energy and piques their curiosity!

I then provide them with framing questions related to their current challenges and their goals going forward. I change the wording of the specific questions based on the climate of the classroom and the needs of the participants.

I then ask participants to select a card that represents their current challenge and a card that is emblematic of a high priority goal. In all but a handful of cases, participants flat out reject my advice that they limit their selection to two cards! Many take 4-5 cards and some take even more than that.

It’s very clear that there is huge variability in Explorer card preferences. Some people will select multiple cards within a single deck (e.g., only Wisdom Explorer), while others will mix and match.

Whatever cards they select, a large majority of participants relate how important the card is to them and ask whether they can take the card home. Some weave passionate stories about the cards they select. Most want to share their cards and stories with other participants (which we encourage, but not require them to do).

There are many lessons to be learned from these experiments to promote robust reflection. An important one is to provide participants with multiple Explorer sets, as it increases the likelihood that their reflections on being a leader will be substantive, thought-provoking and lasting.


Three Stages of Wisdom: Dependence, Independence and Interdependence

Three stages of wisdom are expressed in Wisdom Explorer™. These are the stages of human development called dependent, independent, and interdependent (more on this idea here and here). Different kinds of wisdom are appreciated at each stage of one’s life. Each quote in this deck may be interpreted differently at each of the three life stages.

Interdependent wisdom is about the interconnection of everything and the mysteries of existence.

Independent wisdom is about the journey of the self, and the power of personal experience and rational thinking.

Dependent wisdom is about tradition, belonging, power and survival.

Click here for the full set of quotes, authors and codes.

Here are several quotes illustrating dependent wisdom in the realm of leadership:

“Rough waters are truer tests of  leadership. In calm water every ship has a good captain.”
Scandanavian Proverb

“There are no bonds so strong as those which are formed by suffering together.”
Harriet Ann Jacob

And independent wisdom, also with a leadership focus:

“Don’t set sail on someone else’s star.”
African Proverb

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
Harriet Tubman

And interdependent wisdom:

“With our short sight we affect to take a comprehensive view of eternity. Our horizon is the universe.”
Paul Laurence Dunbar

“In the long history of humankind, those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”
Charles Darwin


Leadership, Learning, Life

Leadership, Learning, and Life are the three facets of who we are as individuals, as we learn and grow, work and play, take on leadership responsibilities, and live a full life with others. Each Wisdom Explorer™ quote has been selected to represent the wisdom of one or more of these facets.

The foundations of CCL’s work is built on applying the social sciences where the notion that who we are as leaders, how we go about learning, how we lead our lives outside of work, what we value, etc. are known to be inextricably linked. CCL research demonstrates that activities that take place outside of the regular workday contribute to a leader’s effectiveness as a manager. A concept underlying CCL’s Leadership Development Program® is that if we can help managers lead happier and productive lives, they in turn will help others lead happier and productive lives (from a conversation between Bob Dorn, designer of the program and David Magellan Horth). In the late 1990’s, CCL made this link more explicit and recognized the participants insights by absorbing the conceptual trilogy: “Leadership Learning and Life” into its brand.

Over the years of our leadership development work at CCL, we often heard stories from participants of how not only did they feel more capable managers and have better relationships in their workplace but also that their friends and family were commenting positively on the positive changes they had witnessed in the participant. During the delivery of leadership development programs, we often heard participants confess that they have just learned something about themselves from their co-workers that their life partner has been telling them for years.

For example, Life:

“A life lived in fear is a life half lived.”
-Spanish Proverb


“This is the sum of duty:
Do naught unto others
which would cause you pain if done to you.”

The following two cards are examples of those coded for Leadership:

“A leader is a dealer in hope.”
-Napoleon Bonaparte

“Where there is no vision people perish.”

And the following cards are coded for Learning:

“Pain in the present is experienced as hurt,
pain in the past is remembered as anger.”
-Gaelic Proverb

“By seeking and blundering we learn.”
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

It is not necessary to pose a framing question so that it addresses Leadership, Learning or Life. Indeed the coding on the cards is subtle to discourage seeking out cards based on just one domain. That a quote from one of the three domains can become valid in another is often a fascinating piece of data that may lead to further insights.

David Magellan Horth
January 6, 2012