Learning: Amassing Knowledge vs. Creating Understanding

In my “New Year’s Resolution” post I promised to write more…that hasn’t really happened as most of my writing time is committed to Greenhorn Connect related content.  However, I’ve just had an inspiration for a post and so I’d like to share it here.

Since I really dove into entrepreneurship a few years ago, I’ve found I have an insatiable thirst for learning anything and everything related to the topic.  All this time though, I’ve been thinking about what that really means, “to learn.”  I think that in life there are many that seek to learn, but often it’s merely to amass knowledge; I know this fact or that statistic. I’m well-read on this subject.  That’s all well and good, but if they’re just facts and merely someone else’s ideas…how much has been gained?

My goal is not to just amass facts. I’m not looking to be an encyclopedia.  I want to understand. I have so many questions about so many things. And yes, studying and reading always helps, but I always consider it in the context of greater understanding. I think this analogy may help:

You have a farm. On this farm all kinds of fruits and vegetables grow.  Those that are merely amassing knowledge would look at what they have and say that they have hundreds of broccoli heads and thousands of ears of corn.  Those building understanding look deeper and understand how they can take the vegetables and make salads and juices and other unique dishes; each item grown on the farm represents an ingredient, not an end result. When they file this knowledge away of the farm and its produce, those with understanding are thinking of it from the perspective of how the different dishes were made from the farm, while those amassing knowledge only see it in the narrow verticals of each fruit or vegetable produced Those with understanding are also more easily able to transport the concepts created from the dishes from the farm into other areas; everything around them is a small piece to a bigger picture…one that is not necessarily completely clear, but is larger and better than before because of what’s been added.

I think that it’s as important what the question you’re asking is as the means to which you’re going about your learning. For example, I’ve recently become very interested in user experience.  The questions I have are related to better understanding people. I want to be able to better step out of what I think (and all the biases and preconceived notions distorting it) and be able to understand others.  My impressions when I come to a website are not the same as someone else’s.  To accomplish this, I could go straight to a bunch of UI/UX web books, but I think it’s important to go broader than that, so I’m going to try to cast a wider net to truly understand people.  Incidentally, as I work towards this goal, I believe I will be able to apply this new understanding to other areas of my life in human interaction.

How thoughtful are you with your learning? Are you amassing knowledge or creating understanding?

4 thoughts on “Learning: Amassing Knowledge vs. Creating Understanding

  1. Quite the analogy there. ;)

    For me, book knowledge is always abstracted knowledge. This alone is almost useless.

    It’s only after 1st hand observation and experience (from which I can infer my own conclusions) that the knowledge from books becomes “activated” and useful.

  2. Yifei,

    Couldn’t agree more. It’s all in how you apply it.

    This is not to discount books, however. Life can teach you many things, but books and other forms of education (other than learning from your own failings/life lessons), can equip you with the tools to navigate new territories in life.

    -Jason

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