Editor’s Note: December 2011

Who’s the wisest person you’ve met? It’s a question we put to all who attended a planning dinner for this issue, held in September at the Vancouver Club, and it drew fascinating responses from the 20 or so guests, each with specialized knowledge of some aspect of the city.

What, first of all, is wisdom? Here’s a definition I like: “Knowledge of what is true or right, coupled with just judgment as to action.” And another: “Markedly successful problem-solving ability, in the face of uncertainty, subtlety, or novelty.” Here’s my own shot: “The practice of finding inspired solutions, informed by past experience and future implications, to problems simple or complex.”

However you define it, wisdom has never been more needed in our approach to everything from planning the city to allocating government revenues to overseeing the planet. People respond to charisma in a leader, but charisma isn’t wisdom, and wisdom is what’s really valuable. That’s why it’s the theme of this year’s Power 50.

For my part, I think the wisest person I’ve ever known was a therapist friend in Toronto to whom I used to turn when facing a personal or professional dilemma. Once, at a Blue Jays game, I asked what he thought I should do: hang on to a good magazine position, and perhaps eventually inherit the top job? Or risk a couple of years researching and writing a book about a banker who was also a compulsive gambler? He rarely answered directly, but he had a gentle, almost Confucian way with metaphor. Looking out at the sunlit field, watching Yankee players launch batting-practice fastballs into the stands, he said, “Nobody ever stole second base keeping one foot on first.” I’d asked for advice; he cloaked it in a folksy observation that became, for me, words to live by.

As for the guests at our dinner, their answers to the wisest-person question ranged from the Dalai Lama to American writer Wendell Berry to a university professor to Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-Shing. One person, and only one, was mentioned multiple times. Not coincidentally, he tops this year’s Power 50 list.