The Difference Between Knowledge & Intelligence

Right now I’m reading Justin Menkes’ Executive Intelligence. Menkes points out that many top businessmen aren’t competent and fail basic management objectives, and wonders how the screening process failed to winnow out the bad executives. He defines executive intelligence, shows examples of exec-intelligent CEO’s who lead their companies to success, and proposes ways to screen for it that would be better than our current measures. I’m reading it because I think the SAT is a crappy, racist test, and I want to see what tests Menkes proposes and if they’d be good for high school seniors.

By far the heaviest hitting part of the book was when he talked about the difference between knowledge and intelligence, and how we confuse the two.

“The distinction between knowledge and intelligence is frequently blurred. For example, most people are familiar with the popular television show Jeopardy!, on which contestants are rewarded for the amount of knowledge they possess of a wide variety of topics. Often the winners are referred to as “exceptionally smart.” But the truth is that they are exceptionally knowledgeable. Successful Jeopardy! contestants haven’t really proven anything about their intelligence…[Joseph Fagan, chair of psychology at Case Western] has done research focusing on racial differences in test scores, and his experiments found that measures that required certain kinds of academic knowledge, such as vocabulary or complex math, yielded significantly different scores between racial groups. But tests focused on reasoning or processing skills, such as picture and spatial pattern recognition, showed no such differences.”

I generally score well on IQ and SAT tests and people call me smart, but I don’t think my ability to take tests well is any measure of ‘intelligence.’ I run my mouth when I shouldn’t, run in with cops when they have the power to detain me, and sometimes fail to grasp the rules of simple social situations. What I can do, I think, is aggregate information, discard the useless parts, repeat things other more intelligent people say, and use my fantastic memory to recall information and arguments at will. If we are going to rely on tests as much as we do as a society (just look at No Child Left Behind), we need to make sure the tests are measuring what they’re supposed to measure, and that we want to rely on test measures to determine success.


23 thoughts on “The Difference Between Knowledge & Intelligence

  1. Ark3typ3

    I agree whole-heartedly with this. The situation that held the best example for me was a Political Science course I took. In this scenario, most of the students will stand up and give the politically correct answer with slight variations in verbal structure so that they are all “right” together with the Non-Comformists all not conforming together for the sake of being contrary. With this environment, the free thinkers are often drowned out and ideas that might have been are squelched.

    We are in a tailspin of political correctness and backwards thinking. The news paints such a violent picture of the world that it has actually begun poisoning our whole political structure in so much that our freedom of information, freedom to learn, and freedom to speak are slowly dying out.

    I personally hope that we’ll one day pull our heads out of the ground (clean), but I’m not crossing my fingers.

    1. cobalamin

      “We are in a tailspin of political correctness and backwards thinking.”

      Exactly. No one can accept the fact of its own backwards thinking for fear of looking like an idiot with a PHD. Or maybe everyone is delusional to their own idiocy.


      To the OP.

      Gaining knowledge is intelligence. A lot of people mix up the definition of intelligence with that of intellect.

      Intellect cannot be built. Its an inborn mental energy.

      Intellect and intelligence –

      1. techknol

        According to me (might be wrong):
        Intellect is not inborn. It is the same for every one. I call it more like the ability to focus. However, for some people, brain development during teenage, energy, instincts, sensory and emotional highs and lows keep them from using their intellect. More people like the highs and lows more than sobriety or the intellectual high(which is less intense but more prolonged).
        Bottom line: Abilities are generally more or less same for all adults, but it is the free-will which determines what we prefer most.

  2. Sour

    Knowledge is what we show in examinations when we just recall all the information learned.
    Intelligence is shown when we are in a situation, never before experinced, and we get a solution that is most of the time a result of deep thinking and quik decision.

  3. Chris

    I believe that people who are extremely intelligent are gifted.

    There are two types of knowledgeable people. Those that seek knowledge to gain intelligence..(Jeopardy smh) and those that seek knowledge for wisdom and open mindness.

    Intelligence is intepreted different also but it depends on the specific situation you are put in.

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  5. blake

    I agree with some of the others
    I’ve found that most people who have considerable knowledge are simply blessed genetically with a very good memory
    Intelligence is using that knowledge to invent new thoughts, processes etc..
    I’ve encountered many academics with Masters and PhD’s who rolled out endless facts but I didn’t find them very intelligent at all or they had a very narrow field of knowledge on sometimes a very specific subject. There ARE people who have been gifted with both intelligence and a good memory and those people really succeed IF they also have acquired social knowledge and intelligence to function well in society. I’ve also found that displays of knowledge and intelligence is far more important in the academic world because that’s how they define themselves-I’ve tried this discussion with academics and found them to be VERY sensitive and easily offended by what I see an an objective question or observation. I think that electrical engineers, engineers and a host of other careers requires brains as good as or better than the academics but only the academic feel a need to display it socially(again because that’s how they define themselves). I’m voicing these opinions only after long observation of people. Any thoughts out there?

  6. Suzanne Moen

    Very good comments, however, when we examine Gardner’s original 7 intelligences we realise that whatever intelligence we have, we need to value and co-operate to realise valuable outputs:-

    1. Linguistic Children with this kind of intelligence enjoy writing, reading, telling stories or doing crossword puzzles.
    2. Logical-Mathematical Children with lots of logical intelligence are interested in patterns, categories and relationships. They are drawn to arithmetic problems, strategy games and experiments.
    3. Bodily-Kinesthetic These kids process knowledge through bodily sensations. They are often athletic, dancers or good at crafts such as sewing or woodworking.
    4. Spatial These children think in images and pictures. They may be fascinated with mazes or jigsaw puzzles, or spend free time drawing, building with Leggos or daydreaming.
    5. Musical Musical children are always singing or drumming to themselves. They are usually quite aware of sounds others may miss. These kids are often discriminating listeners.
    6. Interpersonal Children who are leaders among their peers, who are good at communicating and who seem to understand others’ feelings and motives possess interpersonal intelligence.
    7. Intrapersonal These children may be shy. They are very aware of their own feelings and are self-motivated.

    Scientists and Engineers may be good at inventing or developing processes, but they may struggle to communicate and share their ideas. A simple example of this when I go to the supermarket on bicycle and go to store my bicycle in the bicycle rack. There is rarely a fit for purpose bicycle storage facility. Communication skills were obviously not used to shape the product further with the people that use the facilities.

    People need to be encouraged to talk together to encourage the cementing of a variety of intelligences in projects – whether personal or professional. Perhaps the new coalition government will relaunch the concept of the real co-operative movement.

    The academic world is competitive and the value of intelligence is centred around the academic world alone. What we have in this country is multiple untapped intelligences in the communities that intelligence should serve. There are pockets of intelligence which remain underdeveloped because of our education system that is based on the power of good memory alone.


    1. blake

      I think I may have found a good perceptive on this subject-from Einstein-simply put as usual but right on the mark-“The true test of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”.

  7. required

    Differentiating both is hard because we are born with intelligence and knowledge is discovered with intelligence, I guess.

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  10. Jen

    I think we may need to know more about how the human brain works before we can come to a conclusive decision on the difference between knowlege and intelligence (atleast a more complete answer). This may not be the case, but it’s something to consider. I’ve been reminded several times of how little scientists actually know on how the mind works exactly, and what specifically gives someone his/her intelligence. And then how intelligence differs from knowledge. Food for thought :P

  11. R T Uhline

    Intelligence is a measure of one’s ability to process information to some end. Knowledge is information—such as facts and conclusions one arrives at by the relationship between facts. It is intelligence that allows one to come to those conclusions on his/her own. Thinking involves both intelligence and knowledge. For example “Jeopardy” requires extensive knowledge but the contestents are also using their intelligence to process the “answer” and come up with an “question” quickly.
    It may be worthwhile to point out that thinking and the results that come from it rest on a “three legged stool”. The three legs are ; intelligence, knowledge and one’s “state of being”. One’s “state of being” include such things as emotional state, physical state. ethics, etc.

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  13. Stephanie O'Daniel

    True true. Intelligence is something you either have or you don’t. Knowledge is taught and acquired from books and learning. There are millions of people with degrees who are not intelligent and basically have no common sense. What bothers me most is companies demand degrees for certain jobs instead of relying on the intelligence of the applicants. Degrees are not a true measure of anyone’s intelligence…..The degree just means the person acquired some knowledge and it basically does not really speak to it because the person applying is not always tested to see if their knowledge is true or adequate or has reached a level that they should even have a degree. I have always outperformed and outpaced most coworkers and I don’t have a degree. Firms rely on degrees as a way to weed out applicants and most times the ones needing to be given the boot is the one with the degree who has no clue. I am not discounting anyone with a degree …just don’t think people without should be discounted. Further

    1. Jey

      I don’t agree with the thought that you either are born intelligent or you aren’t. While I’m not disputing the fact that ones intelligence largely comes from one genetics, I believe that a certain level of intelligence cn be gained throughout socialisation. For instance, engaging a child in games that enhance their logical sense, this doesn’t increase his knowledge but rather it makes him more keen to subjects relating to logistics.

    1. blake breddy

      i agree with Einstein’s thought- “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination”
      I’ve experienced so many people with PHD’s who are perfect examples of it- they just spout back facts and theories they’ve read – so many times what we perceive as knowledge stems from simply an excellent memory


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