What’s Knowledge Without Intelligence?

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Quick Takes:

  • There's a difference between knowledge and intelligence
  • You need knowledge in order to form connections, beliefs and theories
  • The act of making these connections and forming theories is intelligence
  • Knowledge breeds intelligence, and your intelligence increases your work ethic
  • Focus on increasing each of these three areas

We’ve all heard it, and we’ve all wanted it: knowledge is power.

We also know, through trial and error, that intelligence prospers. Hard work is a necessary component, yes, but you show me a hard working person with intelligence and I’ll show you someone on a trajectory of personal success.

We always talk about the hard work and perseverance needed to succeed, and at the risk of contradicting myself, we all know someone who’s reached personal success with a ton of grit and not much knowledge or intelligence. "How can this person be so successful?? I’m way smarter than she is!” I know most of us have said it, and I’m sure we’ve all thought it.

To contradict my contradiction and bring us back on track, as important as work ethic is to success, we often devalue the importance of knowledge and intelligence. It seems almost "in vogue" to place high value on work and a lower amount of value on understanding or comprehension. "If you have grit, you can overcome any obstacle!", all the self improvement specialists say.

But in fact, it’s because our work ethic increases our knowledge that it’s so important. And in turn, our knowledge increases our ability to become intelligent, so that there’s a relationship between work ethic, knowledge and intelligence that can’t be ignored.

If you want to be intelligent, you need work ethic and knowledge. If you want to work hard, you need to understand the value of knowledge and intelligence. If you want knowledge, it’s because you understand that it’s a bridge between your physical labors and your conceptual understanding.

Start in the Middle

We’ve grown up in a society that treats knowledge and intelligence the same. It’s ubiquitous, as far as we know. This, however, isn’t true, and is causing us to miss the mark on both.

Knowledge is the ability to learn, or is the comprehension of the thing you’re learning about. When you pick up a book (please tell me that you pick up books!), whether it be about science, history or fiction, the fact, figure or concept you learn about is knowledge. If you’re a science nerd like me and learn about the physics behind unmanned drones, you’re increasing your knowledge.

Intelligence, on the other hand, is the ability to form connections between two or more points of knowledge. For example, two unrelated points rattling around in your brain may be that it’s possible to send drones long distances and that many citizens of developing countries are malnourished.

Intelligence, then, comes into play when you form a meaningful connection between those two random points. Given your understanding of drone flight, you figure out a way to conceptually send nutritious meals to hard-to-reach countries at low cost. Intelligence is the act of making a connection, otherwise unconnected.

Then, once a connection between two points of knowledge have been made, you can call on your work ethic to manifest that conceptualization into the real world, in the form of a business or non-profit.

But Wait, Doesn’t Work Ethic Come First?

Well, the connection between work ethic, knowledge and intelligence is a closed loop.

It’s safe to assume that if you’re reading this than you have at least some level of intelligence (probably higher than my own). Whether you realize it or not, you’ve been putting your intelligence into physical practice since you’ve been born. Think of a baby’s curiosity as your first level of "work ethic.” A baby works to try things out in the real world, gains bits of knowledge throughout the process, and then becomes more intelligent as it creates enough points of knowledge to see the bigger picture with a little more clarity.

It’s no different if you’re one or 100. But since we’re now dropping ourselves into the middle of our lives, it does feel like intelligence comes first, but in fact it’s a closed loop. What came first, the chicken or the egg?

So regardless of if you’re already implementing your intelligence through work ethic or not, the act of implementing ideas actually increases your points of knowledge. And, of course, the more points of knowledge you have, the easier it will be for you to form connections and increase your intelligence, which you will then put into practice through work, after which the cycle repeats itself.

Take for example the desire to start a business. You’ve been working within a specific industry for a few years, and have the knowledge and intelligence to iterate on an existing idea, win clients and start a company. You reach out to clients on the side, pitching your new idea and how you can help them. The responses are great, and you win your first client. Well, time to quit your job and put knowledge and intelligence into practice.

Then, as it always happens, you learn something new about your client or the industry itself, that changes your initial thinking. Maybe the pain point wasn’t as acute as you thought. Maybe there is a much larger pain point to be solved, but is one that can only be uncovered through a dedicated client-base.

You gain these pieces of knowledge, understanding what works and what doesn’t. Gaining points of knowledge by doing, and going all in as an entrepreneur, you make connections between these new pieces of knowledge otherwise unknown to you, increasing your intelligence. Then, through a new business plan or business model, you put your understanding into practice, and work hard to strengthen your company and the value you offer.


The bottom line? The big takeaway? Hm, What’s that quote again? Ah:

“You don’t know what you don’t know."

So? Just do it.

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