What’s the difference between knowledge and wisdom, and how does that affect you? The answer relates to the tile of this post, and can have a profound effect on your future success.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “It’s not what you know but who you know.” There’s some truth in that. Having a well-developed network leads to opportunities and possibilities greater than what you alone can accomplish or even imagine. Thus, I’m a big proponent of networking. However, that masks the underlying factor that leads to success. A better saying is, “It’s not what you know but what you do with what you know.” What makes the latter saying more useful?
Wisdom – Knowledge in Action
Dictionary.com defines knowledge as, “acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation; general erudition.” A Bible encyclopedia defines knowledge as, “familiarity with facts acquired by personal experience, observation, or study.” Thus we gain knowledge from the things we read and see, and through our personal life experiences.
The amount of online knowledge available to the average person today is staggering. Do a search on any topic and you’ll likely get results in the tens of thousands at the very least! There is no shortage of information, making our modern-day live up to it’s previously coined moniker of “the information age.” Additionally, we personally carry around more data than ever before. The amount of information that fits into a handheld device required an entire floor of storage and processing power to hold and effectively access just a few decades ago. When added to the unimaginable storehouse of knowledge previously mentioned and available wirelessly over numerous networks, the data flow is mind-boggling (see this infographic for more detailed stats).
There’s enough information out there to create geniuses. Do we find the information automatically resulting in greater intelligence and, more importantly, wisdom? Generally, that isn’t the case. For example, having access to the vast stores of information doesn’t make the machines hosting that knowledge more intelligent, even among those which purportedly have artificial intelligence. Those of us with access to that information aren’t necessarily geniuses as a result, although many definitely tap into the knowledge available. The fact is the accumulated knowledge available won’t automatically make us more intelligent or wiser because having access to information:
- Does not mean we avail ourselves of it
- Does not mean we find the needed information
- Does not mean we understand what we find
- Does not mean we believe what we discover, and
- Does not mean we act on what we learn in an effective way
The above highlights the fundamental difference between knowledge and wisdom. While the first two points above (some may include the third as well) are a result of lacking knowledge, the remaining points definitely relate to applying knowledge. Unless you act on the knowledge gained, it’s worthless.
Lack of Knowledge
- We don’t avail ourselves of available knowledge. We all know (and sometimes we are) people who won’t make an effort to help themselves. Although the knowledge is out there, they won’t make an effort to find it. Worse still, some of those people cry about others not helping them because they won’t spoon-feed them information to overcome challenges they face (that’s a topic for another post). Thus, a lack of knowledge hampers them.
- We don’t find the needed information. Just because information is out there waiting for us to access it, that doesn’t mean we actually find what we need for a given situation. If our search terms are too general, and/or we’re looking for answers to meet specific, unique situations, chances are what we need is buried in a mountain of results rather than in the first few entries. Wading through all those web pages may prove too much for some. Depending on the time available and how critical the situation, many give up after clicking the first few links. Therefore, unless you revise your search terms and receive a new results page, you may not find what you need.
Lack of Application
- We don’t understand what we find. We may find a fantastic explanation to a question we have. After all, with all the data pouring onto the worldwide web daily, it’s probably already out there. However, finding an answer and understanding an answer are two different things. We may not fully comprehend the information provided, and that lack of clarity can lead to inactivity. For example, many business owners with whom I speak know they need a greater social media presence and have read articles about implementing effective social media plans. They read about Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and learn about things like proper SEO practices and measuring success. They understand the words they read but the concepts escape them. Therefore, they don’t act on what they’ve read.
- We don’t believe what we discover. Sometimes we simply reject the solution we find, for whatever reason. For example, in the scenario mentioned above, imagine that a business owner reads about social media strategy and implementing an effective marketing plan. He or she may not fully understand what’s involved or may not have the time to add such implementation strategies to their already overloaded plate. The owner’s research leads to a firm like Grammar Chic Inc. headed by Amanda Clark (a great lady and fantastic business person) and its blog, The Red Ink. He or she reads not only about best practices but also about the services Grammar Chic offers. However, the owner decides not to use those services. Why? Perhaps because they don’t think Grammar Chic is “worth it,” or mistakenly decides they’re trying to ‘take advantage of unsuspecting people.’ When it comes to social media you find people saying such things, particularly if they’ve been in business for a while. So, even though Amanda’s firm makes a clear and eloquent case for their services, some may not believe they offer value and decide not to act on what they learn (which is a definite loss for the business).
- We don’t act on what we learn in an effective way. After doing our research and finding information we understand and believe is useful, it’s time to take action. Except sometimes we don’t. Or perhaps we do, but in an ineffective way that yields less-than-stellar results. Amy Porterfield is big on immediately putting information to use effectively. If you’ve ever attended one of her webinars, you know she asks everyone listening to commit to taking action on at least one thing in the week following her presentation, and designs accountability into the program by inviting participants to list on her Facebook page the one thing they plan on doing. Since she does that for her free webinars, you can imagine the level of support and accountability she designs into her paid programs (check them out here).
Those last points highlight the truth in the saying, “It’s not what you know but what you do with what you know.” It helps explain why someone with great knowledge and perhaps understanding may not reach their full potential. In addition to knowledge, we need wisdom.
Let’s use the same reference works mentioned previously to define wisdom. Dictionary.com says wisdom is, “knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action; sagacity, discernment, or insight.” The Bible encyclopedia says wisdom “lays emphasis on sound judgment, based on knowledge and understanding; the ability to use knowledge and understanding successfully to solve problems, avoid or avert dangers, attain certain goals, or counsel others in doing so. It is the opposite of foolishness, stupidity, and madness, with which it is often contrasted.”
Thus, acting effectively on the knowledge we acquire is wisdom, and unfortunately those with the most knowledge aren’t necessarily the wisest. Yes, knowledge is necessary to wisdom; without knowledge, there is nothing to guide your actions. Yet simply accumulating a wealth of knowledge won’t automatically make you wise. You need to know how to use that knowledge to achieve effective results. As the subheading puts it, wisdom is knowledge in (effective) action.
What Will You Do With Your Knowledge?
We all want things in life. Some want financial success. Others desire prestige and position, whether political, social, or any combination thereof. Some want to do more for their family (such as buy a new home, purchase a new car, add an addition to their existing home, etc.). Others simply want more contentment from life. Regardless of your desire, one thing holds true if you’re ever to achieve any of them: It takes work to get the things you want. That means you have to do something. To put it more bluntly, it likely means you need to do something other than what you’re doing at present, or that you have to continue doing those present activities for a longer time. The problem is many feel acquiring knowledge is the goal when it’s only one step in the process.
Success in any endeavor requires two general steps: gaining knowledge and putting it to good use. Knowledge is all around us, waiting for us to tap into it. In fact, most people already have the knowledge necessary to succeed in most endeavors. What holds them back lies in the answer to the question, “What are you willing to do?”
Jennifer Ryan, a relationship counselor with I Choose Change, wrote an insightful article that debunks a popular myth. Many say that ‘knowledge is power,’ but Jennifer highlights that knowledge is only potential power. If you don’t use it, the knowledge is useless. As she puts it, “Knowledge won’t attract you what you want unless it is organized and intellectually directed through practical plans.” She underscores this by relating a conversation she had with a man who wanted to lose 80 pounds. That’s a definite, tangible, and attainable goal. However, when she asked him how he planned to lose those 80 pounds, he told Jennifer, “Oh, I’m just going to start exercising more.” More exercise is good, no doubt. Unfortunately, he had no specific plans on this exercise. How many days a week, and on which days would he exercise? How long would each session last? Which exercises did he plan on performing? Without definite plans, the likelihood is he won’t do a thing. After all, don’t you think he knew long before his conversation with Jennifer that he needed more exercise? Knowledge simply isn’t enough to accomplish even a goal as worthy as losing weight.
Have you planned out the steps to accomplish your goals? Are they in writing, and in a place where you can view them daily? Additionally, do you have some sort of accountability built-in to your plans? These are necessary things if you want to accomplish your goals. They will help you act wisely, using the knowledge you’ve gained in productive ways. They’ll help you develop and demonstrate wisdom, which will have a profound effect on all aspects of your life. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, your future success is bound up in the answer to the question, “What are you willing to do?”
Tell us about your experiences. Did you have to break out of the “knowledge trap,” mistakenly equating education with wisdom? If so, what helped you see the light and how did you overcome the misconception? How do you currently put your knowledge to work? Have you helped others to do the same? Share your experiences, observations, and thoughts in the Comments below.
- Knowledge, Wisdom, and Insight (goodmorninggratitude.com)
- [EN] How To Manage The Constant Tsunami of Knowledge – Forbes (digitalnaiv.com)
- Delivering Exceptional Value Using Your Knowledge and Wisdom (bigthink.com)
- Something For The Ladies “Wisdom Is Supreme” (majestyminds.com)
- Why Does Personal Development Fail? (lisamhayes.com)