Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What’s more important, Knowledge or Experience?

In a previous post, I mentioned how I was asked to speak at a local college to their computer club. During the Q and A session afterwards, I received some really interesting questions that were a lot of fun to deliberate on.  One question I received bothered me, because I answered it, and then thought about it, and then realized that I answered it wrong.  The question was “What do you think is more important, knowledge or experience?”

And so, that was the question that has driven me crazy the past several days.  My initial answer was rather blunt.  I stated “experience”, and told the students that I wasn’t very good in school, and even though my base of knowledge from that time was rather poor (in my eyes anyway), I had accumulated 12 plus years of experience in business, IT, software development, and all of the accoutrement’s that accompany those experiences (emergency bug fixes, small\large projects, project management, varying technologies).  So in other words, I wasn’t fit to speak to the club because of my college GPA, but because of the body of work I had accumulated over the last 12 yars of my career.

The more I thought about this question, the more I wished I answered the question better. After more thought, I think the answer is “both”.

Book knowledge is always helpful. We live in the “Information Age”, and as we have always looked at history and found that the invention of the printing press was one of the great advancements in society, future generations will say the same for the Internet. Knowledge is at our grasp at all times, from weather to news to history. Experience on the other hand teaches specific lessons. Every lesson learned typically comes down to one of two things:

1. “this worked because of X”
2. “this didn’t work because of X”.

When all the books stop their text, end the paragraph or go to a new chapter, experience continues to isolate variables and.. for those who pay attention.. indicate what steps make a difference between that fine line of success and failure.

So above, I stated that I switched my answer to “both”, well.. why?  Much like the term “focused intensity” indicates, we’re at our best when we dedicate to a few specific tasks, rather than trying to capture as much as we can. In sports, for every 1 Bo Jackson who can play every sport exceptionally well, there are 1,000,000 professional athletes who can only play one sport exceptionally well. For those million, it’s because they have the combination of knowledge and experience. They have that focused intensity on their primary subject matter, and the experience they receive continues to reinforce the knowledge they need to exceed.

So in the end, I think the most important thing to do is to focus on your skill and dedicate a lot of time towards it (practice makes perfect, right?). It’s important to multi-task, but not over-extend (we all have varying levels that we can multi-task, so we all need to find our own limitation). Over time, that continued experience dedicated towards that subject matter knowledge is what grows an individual into an expert. Knowledge gives us the breadth of expertise to know how far the landscape extends, but experience helps us learn that landscape more thoroughly.  Each in their own right are important, but the combination of the two can truly create success.

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