Monday Mo: Knowing Vs. Understanding And Why It Matters

Meg Matsuura

One of Einstein’s noted jewels of wisdom was, “Any fool can know. The point is to understand. 
Knowing is just the beginning, and understanding is the end goal.” 

In my early college days, I had a “crammer” approach to taking tests for my classes. The balance of maintaining a social life, sleep, and good grades was near to impossible – so I figured cramming was the best way to save time. While this approach usually got me the test scores I wanted, my retention levels were low to nothing. 

Once I decided to really study and implement the material I learned, the subjects became more interesting and I was able to retain the information even after the tests. This allowed me to advance my knowledge as concepts continued to build upon each other. My college experience taught me that understanding sets the foundation for progression and growth. 

This is just one personal example of identifying the difference between “knowing” and “understanding.” After doing a bit more research on this topic, I came to find many interpretations on the key differences between these related terms. Here are a few summarized examples:

  • Knowing is awareness of a situation or information. For example, a business owner might know their numbers. On the other hand, understanding requires information to be intellectually processed. A business owner who understands their numbers can take that information and make decisions to improve their services.
  • Understanding something can be a life-changing experience, while knowing may not be as impactful. 
  • Knowledge is what you get from other people. Understanding is what you do with that knowledge.
  • Knowledge is something that you accumulate through learning. Understanding is something that you know because you have lived through it.

monday mo knowledge

These are just a few of the many takes on knowledge vs. understanding. However, it seems the common thread between all the interpretations is that understanding is where the most meaningful impacts are made. 

So next time you read a book, learn a new skill, take a class, start a new project, etc. take the time to understand the information you’re taking in. The outcomes and rewards are far greater than just skimming the surface. 

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