10 June 2020

The trinity of knowledge, understanding and wisdom

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As a nation, we seem to have decided that there is one kind of learning to be prized above all else – the ability to acquire knowledge and repeat it in exams or course work; we are sent to school as children, crammed with knowledge, and we emerge once we are older with qualifications and set out into the world of work.


However, learning is not limited to the acquisition of knowledge alone. Learning doesn’t take place solely in schools and universities in the form of classes and lectures; learning certainly doesn’t stop when the school bell rings.


I would argue that far more impactful learning takes place once you graduate from these institutions – because true holistic learning involves a trinity of knowledge, understanding and wisdom, the latter two of which are much harder to teach within the rigid confines of classroom teaching.


Once young people emerge from these institutions and step into the world of work, they often undergo a watershed moment – or at least that what we hope for as parents!


The media often report that Britain’s young adults are not sufficiently work-ready while employers are saying work-readiness is the most important attribute they’re looking for. I believe that young people have never been fully prepared for the workplace; the watershed moment they experience as they move from education into the world of work marks a larger transition away from absorbing knowledge towards learning from experience, i.e. learning that emphasises understanding, which leads to wisdom.


Our young people need environments in which they are empowered to learn in these deeper ways. They need to learn that understanding (recognising the what, how and why of the knowledge we’ve gained) together with wisdom (essentially knowing what to do next) is worth acquiring, and that it is in fact key to continued success in life – whether that is success in their working life, home life, or personal life. Fundamentally, they need to recognise the ways in which wisdom can be developed.


It is one of the reasons the apprenticeship model is so vital. An apprenticeship introduces to the apprentice knowledge about a specific business, product and/or service area they are operating in – knowledge generally not received in school – and is coupled with the freedom to experiment and make mistakes in a safe, low-risk situation, together with the tutelage of a more experienced mentor who can share their wisdom. 19-year-olds aren’t generally good at learning from mistakes, but we all need to learn some things painfully before we realise that it is much easier to learn from others.


Of course, it is not that our young people don’t learn understanding and wisdom at school. But the necessity of wisdom comes into much sharper focus in the world of work. More is expected of you and the stakes are raised.


What then is the difference between knowledge, understanding and wisdom?

  • Knowledge is the gathering and recollection of facts and information.
  • Understanding is the ability to interpret these facts and comprehend the what, why and how behind the knowledge you have acquired.
  • Wisdom is accumulated from day-to-day experiences that inform decision-making. It helps you identify the correct path forwards. As discussed in previous articles, it is the ability to discern.


To achieve all three empowers you to become a productive and effective member of society and industry; in combination, they enrich our lives. However, with a bit of wisdom, it is not necessary to possess all knowledge at all times; wisdom alone enables you to identify the times that you don’t possess the requisite knowledge and instructs you to receive advice from someone who does, whether it’s another member of staff, a supplier, or an external source like TRADA.


In today’s competitive markets, with an ever increasing range of products and services, we must invest time in understanding our customers’ needs and how our products/services can truly help them achieve their goals. This is particularly challenging when so much of our time and thinking capacity these days is absorbed with logistics, IT systems and regulations – not to mention Coronavirus. Wisdom to know when we don’t know enough about something is now more important than ever. By not appreciating that young adults need help with acquiring understanding and wisdom whilst at work, we are doing them a disservice.


Rupert Scott is TRADA's Membership & Marketing Manager and is responsible for the strategic development and management of TRADA's membership strategy, events and exhibitions programme and marketing activities.


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