works of wissen

Works of Wissen

Recently, I discovered two German words with interesting meaning. They have their counterparts in English, but sometimes it takes another language to jolt one into ‘what is and what is missing’. I came about an article in the New York Times, by Jessica Shattuck, who believes her Grandmother was a Nazi. In this, she states:

“In German there are two words for knowing: “wissen,” which is associated with wisdom and learning, and “kennen,” which is like being acquainted.

Acquaintance is, by definition, a surface understanding, susceptible to manipulation. When you are “acquainted with” something it’s much easier to see only part of the whole.”

While Jessica Shattuck was talking in the context of the citizens of Nazi Germany, where they wilfully closed their eyes to the atrocities at home; it struck me that this capacity for superficiality in thinking and execution is as much at work in the corporate world.

Why is it that so many strategies are doomed to failure?

One possibility is because leaders are trapped in Kennen: superficial thinking that extends itself into insignificant and obvious solutions which offer only incremental benefits.

Wissen takes time; wissen is painful. First, you have to unplug from the daily transfusion of meetings and emails and decisions and emails and meetings (MEDEM cycle). Then, like an uncomfortable out-of-body experience, you must become willing to re-examine your most cherished beliefs, and challenge them for radically new directions. Far easier to fall back into the comfort zone of Kennen.

Therefore, many leaders follow the well trodden path to more-of-the-same strategies:

  • They simply extend the industry thinking: What is happening in the rest of the industry? How do we play the game or keep up? If we are leading, how do we run faster to stay ahead?
  • They then put on their safety belt by hiring an expert to reconfirm or extend their thinking: A branded consultant often provides a safe second opinion that supports the Kennen led strategy.


Today, on May 1st 2017,  Anarva turns 2.

And on its birthday, we raise a toast to you, the reader, and to Anarva. A wish that in our respective areas of business we will each produce Works of Wissen (WoW); where we will have the courage to plug out from the ease of Kennen. For when we do so, remarkable new futures are possible!


We’d love to hear your views. Connect with us on @thinkanarva on twitter or on our FaceBook page.


  1. I Loved My Grandmother. But She Was A Nazi.