In my previous post (#9. Let Someone Else Brainstorm For You), I wrote that knowledge has disadvantages brought me lots of questions by email from readers.
While these conversations are fresh in my mind, I thought I’d add some additional thoughts.
Knowledge, intelligence and information are words tossed around as synonyms, and they’re not.
Information is static data. There is more information in the world than you will ever know.
Knowledge is information that you know. You’ve learnt it, in school or through experiences.
Intelligence is your ability to act upon the knowledge, to make decisions. It’s a vital
ingredient in making ideas.
For example, while playing Trivial Pursuit with friends a few months ago, someone said I was “intelligent” because I knew the capital of Maine was Augusta. It was a nice complement,
but in the case of a board game, I wasn’t demonstrating my intelligence. I was
demonstrating my knowledge. I simply remembered a fact I learnt years ago
in school, and after several glasses of pinot grigio, I was delighted (shocked?)
I could remember it was Augusta and not Portland.
Knowledge – all that marvelous information inside your head (much of it forgotten, but still there) – is used by your brain as fuel to ignite the imagination, and as material to create ideas. The more knowledge you have, the more potential fuel you have for more ideas. As H.G. Schnackel said, “Any addition to the individual’s store of usable experience is potential materials for the exercise of the imagination.”
For example, “That reminds me …” is a classic phrase said during brainstorming. It’s your brain remembering a piece of knowledge. In a nanosecond, your intelligence took over. Your brain used the original piece of information to adapt and mold it into a new idea through the power of association. It might not be a good idea or an original one – but it’s an idea nonetheless.
At the same time, knowledge can sometimes prevent creativity in two ways. First, from a purely psychological aspect, the brain stores knowledge and the brain uses information. They’re two separate functions. As Alex Osborn writes, “Mnemonics wastes mental energy that could go into creative thinking.”
Second, a person can grow too comfortable with their knowledge. Each piece of information is in fact a piece of information about the past. It’s what
was. Information changes all the time – indeed, life does. So, “old” information may soon be out-of-date, irrelevant, or out of context in another situation.
We all know that it’s easy to find one piece of information that contradicts another piece of information, especially now given the Internet at our fingertips. So, if we hold dear to a piece of information, how do we know it’s still useful, accurate, applicable? Being too close to a piece of information means we remain in the past.
Again, Osborn writes: “Creativity calls for forward thinking. Although creative imagination uses the materials of previous experience, the chief aim is not to reproduce the past – on the contrary, it is to avoid reproducing the past.”
In conclusion – yes, continue to build your knowledge. Keep learning. Go to training. And, at the same time, remember that it’s more important to think how knowledge can be used, adapted and molded to create ideas for the future, not to hold on to the past.
Is knowledge helpful or hurtful? What’s your opinion?
I apologize for not knowing who designed the artwork. I found it on Tumblr without reference to the artist. If you recognize the artist, please let me know.