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The Wisdom of the Ages



Recently, we’ve received questions about the ancient philosophers and their references to the “three parts of the mind.” We refer them to a little Kolbe document published in 1985 called the Wisdom of the Ages: Historical & Theoretical Basis of the Kolbe Concept™.

These recent questions caused me to go back and peruse that useful document again, and then to go online and dig deeper (I am, after all, a 7 in Fact Finder).  When Kathy Kolbe founded this enterprise 35 years ago and moved the focus from gifted education to something called the “conative,” she was plowing very new ground. She found the word “conative” in Roget’s Thesaurus while she was researching.

Revelation sparked investigation and further digging traced conation all the way back to the ancient philosophers.  Well known in ancient times and carried forward over the ages, the word and the concept were virtually lost over the last century.  Once Binet developed the first practical intelligence test in the early 20th century, the focus of educators went directly to the cognitive part of the mind. By mid-century, social style indicators had carved out their niche and the word “conative” had all but disappeared.

When Kathy wrote The Conative Connection, the intent was to boldly put this little-known word in the title so that people would start to talk about it. This led to some hilarious, and also frustrating, encounters with librarians and book store clerks who could not stop looking for The “Cognitive” Connection, even as one stood there and spelled out the word. There were people who actually alleged that Kathy Kolbe made up the word since they had never heard it before.

With the accumulation of references found in the Wisdom of the Ages, the first return shot was fired. Yes, Plato and Aristotle talked about conation and you can go online and search for the references. They didn’t always agree about the details but they accepted the concept of a “tripartite structure of the soul.” One researcher called that concept “the single most important classification principle in the field of psychology” based on journal titles and textbook references. This remains true today even though one piece of the triangle may appear dominant over time.

We’ve come a long way over the years. When Kathy published her first book on the subject, the word “conation” was included in the book 1000 Most Obscure Words (by Norman Schur) in the English language. In those early years, Kolbe Corp also started to market its products into Mexico, and I can tell you that the words “la conacion” and  “el conativo” had the same lowly billing in Spanish language dictionaries.  

Now, you can type the word “conation” into your favorite search engine and embrace the plethora of offerings that are identified.  It’s real. It’s authentic.  It’s here to stay.  And, if your boss has never heard of it, start with the “Wisdom of the Ages.” Then, follow, if necessary, with Kolbe Corp’s many research reports summarizing the validity and reliability studies for the Kolbe assessments and sample case studies.

When trying to explain the Kolbe Concept or your M.O., the best approach to take is still to talk about natural strengths or talents, describing one’s natural approach to problem solving, discussing our instinctive path to success, and language similar to that.  Save the word “conation” for identifying the foundation of what you are presenting and how it differs from cognition or affect.  After all, experience does show that what we know and what we like are not necessarily what we will do when we have the freedom of action.    

by Will Rapp

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