My dad was the wisest man I ever knew.
A businessman, philanthropist, and undiscovered poet, Benny Gaon helped turn around Israel’s biggest industrial concern, Koor Industries, in the 1980’s and was hence nicknamed “Israel’s Lee Iacocca.” As fiercely as my father approached commerce, he was equally as passionate about humanity.
In 1993, driven by a relentless desire to improve and save lives, he took on a role he considered one of his most important: President of the Israel Cancer Association. Seven years into his tenure he was diagnosed with kidney cancer.
Over the next eight years, my dad would be diagnosed with two additional forms of cancer, ultimately passing away from CLL (a form of leukemia). When he did, something amazing happened: thousands of people and hundreds of cars jammed the highway to the funeral to pay homage to a guy they didn’t know personally. People nationwide cried. Newscasters on Israeli public radio bemoaned the passing of someone who was, essentially, a businessman.
Though I appreciated the outpouring, it was eerie. How could so many people feel as if my father played an important presence in their lives? I had never met all of these people; I knew there was no way my dad could have.
The best answer I’ve been able to come up with has something to do with how I began this post, as the CEO of Wisdo.com, a company and platform I’ve been lucky enough to co-found in loving memory of dad.
You see, my father was wise.
The power of connection
When asked about anything, by anyone, anywhere, privately or publicly, he would often go out of his way to provide a personal, timely and compassionate answer. That answer, more often than not, was accompanied by an encouraging look in the eye or a comforting hand on a shoulder.
“I care,” his advice seemed to say, “I’d like you to make the right decision.”
After he died, I went through boxes of his old photos. I was struck by how, in almost all of them, regardless of context, he gently touched the person next to him as if to urge them on. Which is why when he died, it didn’t matter how well people knew my father. Everyone felt orphaned.
As for me, I did what writers do when they’re grieving and angry — I wrote.
In a nationwide publication I chronicled the many mistakes our family made throughout my dad’s illness based on a primarily academic approach. Missteps based on information collected by speaking to practitioners who had never had the disease or felt the icy fear of what it was capable of doing to my father; to all of us.
Our assumptions — even those of a wife, sons and daughter of President of a national cancer association — were gathered in an anxious frenzy from late-night online searches. Searches that yielded bits and pieces of information that felt random, lonely, and impersonal. Ones that had almost nothing to do with what we were going through.
You don’t know what you don’t know
We found answers to the questions we knew to ask; what we didn’t have were answers to questions we didn’t know to ask to begin with. Even with humanity’s biggest virtual library available at every computer keyboard, the more we searched the more confused, overwhelmed and unwise we all felt. Nothing we found gave us a vision of the road ahead or a consoling touch; the kind my dad was famous for.
Wisdom is practical knowledge. It’s what’s learned in hindsight. Kernels of “if only I had known then what I know now” information meant to pass along so that others can benefit.
If you’re lucky, wisdom is given to you by someone who’s “been there” and wants to help you by sharing what they’ve learned.
Advice, powered by experience
The article that I wrote after my father’s passing, documenting our wealth of knowledge and lack of wisdom, got published. Widely. People began confessing that they, too, felt starved for wisdom. More importantly, my readers also felt they had valuable information to share that wasn’t being utilized, searched or benefiting others.
My new brothers and sisters in my quest told me they already knew what I’d just realized: We all own unique types of wisdom that were shaped and honed by our experiences, and that wisdom should be known by others. We should be able to search for it, even without personally knowing those whose life journeys mimicked our own. All of us, wisdom seekers and sharers alike, wanted to “download experiences” and make them proactively searchable to those in need, when in need. To help people anticipate the road ahead by shining a light on the journey behind. Even without knowing the right questions to ask.
And just like that — Wisdo was born.
Seeking and sharing wisdom
With the essential concept in place, Wisdo’s team needed the framework to support it:
- Create an online vessel that will encourage people to download what they’ve learned, their “aha moments,” on the one end — and make all of these insights accessible to people on the other.
- Develop an underlying, simple structure that will help those who are totally new to a life experience (e.g. buying a new home, coming out as gay, being diagnosed with breast cancer) anticipate what’s coming. Improve that structure with contributions by real people who’ve gone through real experiences.
- Determine a series of “Timelines” (each life challenge or opportunity), “Milestones” (major points along the way) and “Steps” (specific events between milestones) that define or ‘map out’ a certain life experience. Structured this way, people can easily go in, share their “Insights” (what, in hindsight, they want others to know), add more Steps, recommend additional Milestones, or even build new Timelines.
Wisdom = Knowledge + experience + empathy.
In June of 2016, we released a version that helped users share their structured wisdom across 13 mapped, life experiences: Breast Cancer, Prostate Cancer, Adoption, Coming Out As Gay, and Addiction, among others.
In September, fascinated by what we saw communities doing, we released the second version with over 170 individually mapped-out Timelines, each comprised of the most frequent Steps involved. We also began creating 30–60 second, Step-specific “video insights” and distributed them via social networks. This brought Wisdo’s online viewership, within three months, to over 40 million, confirming our hunch that people are hungry for shared, human experience and wisdom.
Today, we see people suggesting new Steps that become parts of individual life Paths. We see people with experience contributing Insights. But perhaps most gratifying are the comments we receive like “Wow, I never knew this, it’s so helpful!” Or “Because of this, I feel less alone.”
We’ve only just started. We continue to develop our product and messaging. To make sure we get it right, we’re continuously asking our community members why they think Wisdo is important and different.
Our 3 favorite reasons are:
- Authenticity Contrary to what sometimes can be found in social networks, the content at Wisdo is pulled from real life not life romanticized; real community support, not comments made by trolls.
- Visibility Wisdo offers an easy-to-understand, step-by-step structured (“Path”) that provides users a vision of what the road ahead might look like for a major life experience.
- Community Wisdo‘s community members feel that, no matter what they are facing, they are not alone. They can interact with others, with varying degrees of experience as manifested in Wisdo badges, who can provide actionable knowledge, powered by experience. Every “Step” of the way.
Authenticity. Visibility. Community. Three values that modern life sometimes lacks but should include, if we are to live well.
Never Give up
My dad, like most enlightened humans, if to rely on Jewish tradition — died on a Saturday. A few hours prior he called me to his bedside. He put his hands on mine, looked deeply into my eyes and said, “Never give up.”
I haven’t, dad. I co-founded Wisdo
I’d be honored if you checked out Wisdo and let me know your thoughts. I’d be even more honored if you added an Insight of your own. I’m sure you, too, have wisdom to share.
Co-founder and CEO, Wisdo