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Knowledge vs. Intelligence

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About a week ago, I was running into major issues during development of one of my side projects. After a few nights working to resolve whatever was breaking, I was getting frustrated with my lack of progress.

The next night, I was video chatting with Olivier Lacan, and we started discussing the problem. Since he’s a good friend, he suggested sharing my screen and helping me work through it. I was working in Laravel, the new era PHP framework, which Olivier has never worked with (nor does he work with PHP). But he’s intelligent and a great developer, so I quickly took him up on his offer.

We pored through the codebase together—I walked him through the application and the framework, and he asked probing questions about what was happening internally. Since Olivier isn’t deeply familiar with Laravel, he asks different questions than I do, and those questions led us to interesting parts of the framework that I wouldn’t have gotten to alone. After about an hour of debugging, we identified the root issue and fixed it.

I’ve talked about “switch programming” before—trading computers with someone and working through each others’ issues separately—but this is something different. It’s more akin to traditional “rubber ducking,” except with a trusted, intelligent friend.

The difference between knowledge and intelligence is key here. Knowledge is the collection of skills and information a person has acquired through experience. Intelligence is the ability to apply knowledge. Just because someone lacks knowledge of a particular subject doesn’t mean they can’t apply their intelligence to help solve problems.

Knowledge is wonderful, but it fades as techniques and technologies come and go. Intelligence sustains. Its borders extend beyond any technique or technology, and that makes all the difference.

12 Reader Comments

  1. Couldn’t agree more. It always blows my mind when people refrain from asking someone questions just because they aren’t an “expert” in the questioned area.

  2. I’m not sure your thesis follows. Your friend seems to be an experienced developer, and as such has specific skills and knowledge related to software development. He may not know that particular library or language, but he does know similar languages and libraries.

    Or to put it another way, he’s intelligent, AND he has domain-specific knowledge that relates to the problem at hand.

    I have a very intelligent friend who’s a neurosurgeon and knows nothing of software development. If he had been in that chair instead of your friend, I suspect you might still be working on your problem.

  3. Wisdom is the ability to understand how situations fall within your domain of intelligence and knowledge. When something falls outside the domain, using this situation as an example, Anthony has knowledge of PHP and as a talented developer has the intelligence to apply his knowledge, but it was wisdom that gave him the idea to reach out to an external source for help when he got stuck.

  4. I don’t know what to say. This is definitely one of the better blogs I’ve read. You’re so insightful, have so much real stuff to bring to the table.

  5. Interesting subject and great comments. I see intelligence as a means to acquire data, transform the data into information and store it in a knowledge repository. Data from what we see, hear, feel, smell,and touch. A theory or framework is applied to the primary data. The theory or framework/model sits in our knowledge repository. We thereafter use a theory or framework/model (intelligence process) to secondary data that can know be classified as information. Knowledge is historic data and information and is useful (I recall a great quote “remember the past or you are destined to repeat it”),many organisation create a community of practice group to review knowledge management in organisations (generally they are retired professionals). Technology will change however theories and models evolve slowly. Should organisations spend more time on intelligence capabilities or improve their knowledge management processes to get a competitive advantage? Predictive analysis can be articulated as using historic data to predict the future, examples earthquakes, recession, droughts etc. General the outcomes are seldom very accurate. Is that a flaw in the intelligence or a flaw in the knowledge that was used to model the process?

  6. And the takeaway: “Knowledge is the collection of skills…Intelligence is the ability to apply knowledge.” I would like to add that developing a skill takes years and thousands of hours of dedicated work. So without this background, intelligence might fade in front of knowledge.

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