Information, Knowledge, And Wisdom - What Is The Difference?

Posted on August 12th, 2013

Information, Knowledge, And Wisdom - What Is The Difference?

Have you ever wondered what is the difference between information, knowledge, and wisdom? Our lives are filled with all kinds of information, some of which is useful and some of which is useless or not important at all.

As we are transitioning from the information age to the knowledge age, we also have to start thinking about transition into the wisdom age and ask ourselves “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?1

Information is a sequence of symbols that can be interpreted as a message.2 Knowledge is a unique set of facts and skills acquired by a person through experience or education.

Wisdom reflects understanding of “universal truths” or basic laws or patterns; it is knowledge that is based on values, meaning systems, and understanding that clarity is not always possible and that unpredictability and uncertainty are part of life.3

Characteristics of wisdom

  • Factual knowledge - knowing the facts
  • Procedural knowledge - knowing how to do things
  • Understanding relevance of context and values
  • Recognition that it is impossible to know in advance how decision will ultimately affect your life

Wisdom is the ability to make right use of knowledge. Some researchers have identified wisdom as the combination of two categories of attributes:4

  1. Exceptional understanding - using common sense, learning from past experiences, and seeing things within the large context.

  2. Judgement and communication - being aware of sources of good advice, understanding life, thinking carefully before deciding, seeing and considering all points of view.

People who practice wisdom in their life are rewarded intrinsically because the pleasure is derived from the experience itself rather than from some kind of external reward. Lessons from life, philosophy, and religion suggest that wise people:5

  • Know a lot
  • Prefer to view problems from a broader long-term perspective
  • See things in context
  • Are flexible in adopting multiple perspectives of multiple stakeholders
  • Recognise the uncertainty of life and the limits of their knowledge
  • Are prepared to be flexible in the kinds of solutions that they offer

To have wisdom means to have a vision in life and be able to see beyond the horizon. Vision with action can change the world. However, vision without action is just a dream and action without vision just passes the time.6 Knowledge is knowing how to do something. Wisdom is knowing why, how, and what to do.

  • Purpose - why do something
  • Process - how to do something
  • Instruments - what to do

Wisdom = Knowledge + Ethics + Action. Information is the basis for knowledge; knowledge is the basis for wisdom, wisdom is the basis for creativity, and creativity is the basis for innovation (Awad & Ghaziri, 2004).

Wisdom is not about knowing what you’re doing or where everything comes from but about being able to be in the mystery.7

Another thing I’ve learned from aging and spirituality is this question many people ask themselves toward the end of their life: Have I loved well? Not, what did I accomplish or what have I done, but did I really live wholeheartedly?

The meaning of wisdom in different cultures

(Taken from Rowley, 2006)

Eastern thought sees wisdom as involving establishing harmony with one’s environment and leading a good life.

Western thought focuses on the practicality of wisdom.

Confucius (in The Analects) suggested that wisdom entails righteousness, and that the wise person studies and knows the Way (Tao), but also that knowledge must be combined with action.

Aristotle (in Nicomachean Ethics) spoke of practical wisdom as the ability to deliberate well about what is good and expedient regarding the conduct of a good life.

Kant (in Critique of Practical Reason) described the higher state of true wisdom as being concerned with the practical end of the existence of man on earth.

Tolstoy (in War and Peace) talks of wisdom not being found in knowledge, but through a consideration of the whole and an understanding of man’s place in it.

Csikszentmihalyi and Rathunde suggested that wisdom is a cognitive process or a way of knowing; a virtue in which wisdom became the best guide for the supreme good, providing the most compelling guide to action; a personal good, meaning it was an intrinsically rewarding experience that provided some of the highest enjoyment and happiness available.8

  1. Knowledge workers are workers whose main capital is knowledge. Typical examples may include software engineers, architects, engineers, scientists and lawyers, because they “think for a living”. 

  2. Information - Wikipedia 

  3. Boyd, D. R., & Bee, H. L. (2011). Lifespan development (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson. 

  4. Rowley, J. (2006). Where is the wisdom that we have lost in knowledge? Journal of Documentation, 62(2), 251–270. Retrieved from Proquest. 

  5. Baltes, P.B., and Staudinger, U.M. (2000) A metaheuristic (pragmatic) to orchestrate mind and virtue toward excellence. American Psychologist (55:1), pp 122-136. 

  6. Awad, E. M. and Ghaziri, H. M. (2004). Knowledge Management. (International Edition) Pearson Education International: Prentice Hall

  7. Consciousness, Transformation, and the Soul’s Journey by Frances Vaughan, PhD and Cassandra Vieten, PhD 

  8. Kessler, Eric H., and James Russell Bailey. Handbook of organizational and managerial wisdom. Los Angeles: Sage Publications, 2007. Print. 

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