kain ramsay

Life & Leadership Coach, Kain Ramsay Life Balance Coaching

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Is understanding more valuable than knowledge?

2 years ago I attended a short course in basic accounting.

My course tutor had hugely impressed me with her knowledge of the subject, which if I'm totally honest, overwhelmed me a bit and left me more confused about the subject than what I was before I started.

One day when I asked how I could apply this new knowledge in the context of a new business I was starting at the time, I was horrified with the answer I received.

She said, "Although I am your course tutor and have a wide knowledge of this subject, I am probably not the best person to ask as I have never personally kept a set of accounts. Perhaps you could ask someone else who has a better understanding of the subject?"

Now although this lady had over 5 years experience of teaching this subject and did not just impress me, but everyone else on the course with the extent of her knowledge, we would have found her understanding to be ever so much more useful!

I'd love to hear any experiences you have in relation to this TED'ers

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    Nov 17 2013: Both of them are important,

    Imagine that you have driving license, based just on the theoretical knowledge, without driving car at all. Or surgeon, that has just theoretical knowledge how to do the surgery.

    If you want success, you have to learn the subject the best you can,and at the same time to practice the things you have learned,to watch the practical aspect of the subject, and then you will upgrading your knowledge, by the practically skills.
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    Nov 16 2013: Raw knowledge, without the ability to apply it, is somewhat useless. I've tutored for ten years now, and I focus on two aspects: improving ones ability to learn, and improving ones ability to integrate knowledge into their daily life. That is the role a tutor should have, rather than simply bombarding a person with raw knowledge.
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      Nov 16 2013: That sounds a bit like 'Wisdom' to me Daniel!

      Thanks for your input ;)
    • Nov 17 2013: Daniel

      what you said reminded me of a friend who used to say something like :
      the teacher shows the student what to learn but the student determines what to learn from the show.

      the student learns what the student learns (good teachers guide and share in the students adventure of learning) as the sage would say: One can show the door/path to enlightenment , each one must cross/travel it
  • Nov 18 2013: To me, Knowledge is the ability to answer the questions What and How something was done. Understanding is answering the question, Why. Given this understanding, can you apply this to other problems is the key.
  • Sarah T

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    Nov 18 2013: In my opinion, knowledge is merely the accumulation of facts. Understanding allows a person to extrapolate on their knowledge, to discern when it can be applied, and to draw conclusions about knew information or situations.
    An anecdotal example: The valedictorian at my high school was very knowledgeable. She did very well reading and regurgitating information, but was not so good at applying the knowledge outside of tests and homework. She was nearly fired from her first job because she was unable to do anything (even basic office tasks) without being directed on how and what to do. She had knowledge, but she didn't know what to do with it. You might say knowledge is book smarts, and understanding is street smarts.
    That said, I think they're equally valuable. If you don't have knowledge it makes your ability to understand less valuable as you have less information to apply to a situation. Likewise, if you have the knowledge, but lack the ability to apply it to a situation it is worthless.
  • Nov 17 2013: How could somebody understand something without knowledge?
    • Nov 19 2013: They know something works, without knowing why it works...
      I had a profesor who used to say that in medieval times ironworkers would have all sort of superstitious practices about their trade from the experiences they had had in the past. Yea now the cooling is better chemically and physically controlled to produce the properties required though back then it used to be a bit different maybe even requiring a red-headed child with a particular condition to pee on it... likely originally done as a disrespectful act that yielded something good.
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    Nov 17 2013: In the research and develop buz we hit hic cups all of the time. Even experiences engineers make first year student mistakes. As a example the engine is made to certain specs ... thrust, weight, engine stage application, and all sorts of requirements. The look good setting alone on a engine test stand. But important gauges to be read as a part of preflight were put in a non assessable location. Smart but no application skills. Our VP once said that all engineers, (car, plane, etc .. ) should be required to be a mechanic for one year prior to graduation.

    So to know and understand are very closely related the last element is application.

    At the major corporation I worked for they rated 20 years experience very high ... for a applicant with a masters just getting out of school they gave one years experience. They valued education ... but the guy with 20 years experience just needed pointed to the work area ... the new grad was placed in the learning process and would be a asset in two to three years ... a investment in the future.

    Hope I did not muddie the water to bad.

    I wish you well .... Bob.
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    Nov 17 2013: Knowledge and understanding are the same thing.

    The touchstone is application as this is where you find out whether you really know this subject or not
  • Nov 17 2013: :-) ironically, she taught you the three most important words when it comes to learning.
    'I don't know'

    Most egos are not capable of that admission, for they feel diminished when they do not know.
    She could have BS'd you until the cows came home.

    If you're in school, drop out and get an education. :-)
    Don't wait for someone to educate you by sitting in a class.
    Refrain from the term 'lady'. Examine your use of it. What lies behind it....

    My tone is good-natured. I assure you. I've been there.
    Understanding is superior....always
  • Nov 16 2013: "Knowledge is a familiarity with someone or something, which can include facts, information, descriptions, or skills acquired through experience or education. It can refer to the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. It can be implicit (as with practical skill or expertise) or explicit (as with the theoretical understanding of a subject); it can be more or less formal or systematic." (from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowledge)

    "Understanding (also called intellection) is a psychological process related to an abstract or physical object, such as a person, situation, or message whereby one is able to think about it and use concepts to deal adequately with that object. Understanding is a relation between the knower and an object of understanding. Understanding implies abilities and dispositions with respect to an object of knowledge sufficient to support intelligent behavior." (from : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Understanding)

    To me they are inseparable and must be learned together. I think of knowledge as facts, observations, or opinions relevant to an object, situation or event. I think understanding involves using whatever knowledge you possess and assimilating it into your own ideas and comprehension of the object, situation, or event, such that you are able to make your own conclusions about it and make decisions relevant to its place in your life. Ideally, you will then be able to amend your present level of understanding with new knowledge acquired such that you can also grow your level of understanding. The resulting learning and intellectual growth might be similar to a snowball rolling down a hill.

    A good read might be this wiki constructivist theory.
  • Nov 20 2013: There is a huge different between the two
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    Nov 17 2013: Knowledge + understanding + creativity + determination + opportunity + sacrifice + health + humility =
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    Nov 17 2013: I think your tutor's words may mean this:

    "You can lead a horse to the water, but you can not make him drink."
    She can teach you the knowledge, but it's you who have to apply the knowledge in your situations.
    • Nov 19 2013: Yoka,

      I see that what you said has an even a subtler point...
      The teacher can lead the student to the knowledge, but the teacher can not make the student learn... It is the student who has to learn the knowledge... and it is the practitioner who has to apply it...
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        Nov 20 2013: Yes, you're right and I'm glad I can understand you this time.:)
        I think the tutor doesn't know exactly about all the details in one's business, so her most wise choice could be letting the people themselves do the right choices based on the knowledge she has taught them.
        • Nov 20 2013: Yoka,

          I am glad when understanding happens :-)
          I had a really difficult time learning to learn... I just could not understand the teachers ways... and the teacher could not understand my ways...

          Fortunately for me someone showed me that it was up to me to translate from their stand to my stand back to their stand... This worked best in hard sciences where the answer depended on the answer---- not on how one got it... so I became an engineer, with a bit of a passion for IT; who sought perfect solutions... latter on I discovered how the perfect solutions involved a bit of a soft sciences approach given cognitive biases and user peculiarities and preferences... to this day I am a bit handicapped when it comes to certain dealings... for example given I am interested more in what is right than who is right, well I tend to disregard how someone may feel at discovering the truth of the matter... in other words wether they like it or hate it is their business and their choice... it isn't going to change based on their feelings... it is what it is... hate it or love it...deny it or accept it... it is what it is... Recently I learned that I ought to at least warn/ask people of what may be about to happen... before pulling the covers, turning on the lights or pulling the rug under their feet.

          The way I see it is that tutors are a bit like guides that help along a particular part of the territory without that meaning they know it all ... though they may have some useful and vital pointers. A guide once told me that he will take people on the adventure ....without that meaning that he will carry them along it ...
  • Nov 17 2013: Again this is a weighing process.
  • Nov 17 2013: one may understand what works and implicitly or explicitly know what works
    one may know what works without understanding why it works

    One may have the best product and grasp of a situation and know the answer
    which may not translate to being acceptable to others out there
    To me understanding is a step of abstraction above knowledge and more valuable.
  • Nov 17 2013: Your instructor was right. Let me use another example to illustrate what is involved in the "understanding" in your terminology. A student gets a degree in physics or engineering really can't be an experienced engineer if he only has few tour trips to a couple of factories and never participate in sessions of design/repair of any machinery. So the experience of REAL WORK is the only path to be qualified as a certified engineer.
    Let me also tell you my experience. I started working as an apprentice bookkeeper and then became an accountant and later being promoted to a chief accountant. I had never taken any formal course in accounting, yet I later on passed a test for a CPA license. The essential reasoning here is that accounting is essentially a tool to help the UNDERSTANDING OF RECORDED BUSINESS OPERATION DATA, THEN ANALYZING THE DATA TO ARRIVE AT THE PROFITABILITY OR SUCCESS of the business you are in. In other words, the knowledge of accounting does not make a certified accountant unless you understand how to interpret the data to show how successful or failing of the business involved. And also, you need some knowledge or familiarity of the business you are in. However, remember that in order to be good at that, you have to be skilled in the knowledge of accounting analogous to the requirement of the basic principles of physics and engineering for a certified engineer as a prerequisite.
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    Nov 16 2013: Not to put to much of fine point on it, but she was absolutely right to send you to another resource. Your question was about "starting a"new" business" and both the business end and the "new business models" would have nothing to do with the instructors experience since she was just that, an accounting instructor.

    What you wanted was someone who is very familiar with starting a new business - which may be an accounting business or another one that uses accounting but you failed to be specific here and perhaps to her as well. In any event, in this day and age everything is in transition and only those who are involved with those changes on a daily basis are capable of answering such a question.

    In fact, given the number of instructors with inflated egos who would love to regale bright eyed young students on where to find success, those who have been out of the market, teaching for years, will probably just be blowing smoke.
  • Nov 16 2013: The first thing you should understand about your question is it does not make much sense as understanding is a synonym of knowledge. Even in your tutor's example she used both words in a synonymous fashion. That being said here are some people who know a little bit about knowledge or understanding(there meaning is the same).

    "I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand"- Confucius
    "The only source of knowledge is experience"- Einstein
    "Imagination is more important than knowledge"- Einstein
    "Information is not knowledge"- Einstein
    “Knowledge is light; it illuminates and reveals the nature of reality”- Paramahansa Yogananda
    "Wonder is the root of knowledge"- Abraham Heschel

    In business there is a saying that goes like this: "If you can't do it, teach it"
    It was talking about people who go through college but still can not make a living in the real world doing what they were taught in college. So they just "teach", not by experience but by what they "think" is real. Maybe that is what your tutor was a professional "teacher".
  • Nov 16 2013: Knowledge is the backbone to understanding. I agree that without understanding knowledge is useless, but I also feel that without knowledge understanding is very limited. That is why I believe teachers all the way back to secondary school should have some level of real world experience, not just a teaching certificate. Here in America i believe we have a problem with inspiring kids to follow what they are passionate about. This is due to a lack of understanding in the earlier stages of learning. Knowledge is what drives, but understanding is what inspires.
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    Nov 16 2013: Maybe a good way to start thinking about the question is to ask, first, what knowledge you are glad you have and, second, the role knowledge has played in getting you to the point of understanding what you do and being able to apply that understanding in real situations. Would you have reached the understanding you have now attained without knowing how to read, for example?