Article: Insight versus Knowledge


Insight versus Knowledge

Sometimes when our knowledge about a particular subject fails us, it is our insights that help us steer the path

Applying simple and relevant insights are key to better deliverables


We live in a world where there is a pressing need to understand. We are either trying to understand or trying to be understood


Sometimes when our knowledge about a particular subject fails us, it is our insights that help us steer the path.

It’s 7:00 AM on a weekday. You are back from your morning walk. There are three urgent mails on that nag called a Blackberry. You have to make that call to the sales guy at Kansas City before he leaves for the day and your daughter needs to be dropped to school.

And yes, you have to take shower, get dressed and eat your breakfast. In between all of this, you grab the newspaper lying upside down on that leaking flower pot in your balcony, tear off the offending rubber band, shake it loose of those irritating leaflets and quickly start reading. You get around ten minutes, and during this time, your daughter calls out to you, your wife reminds you to pick up some groceries and you also type out a mail or two on the Blackberry while balancing that precious (but tasteless) cup of green tea that the missus wants you to drink instead of that acidity inducing milky concoction we Indians love. `It will cleanse your system’ she says.

So you read the newspaper, taking in the headlines and reading the articles, skimming through the business section, spending some serious focus time on Page 3 and smirk at Calvin’s latest prank on his hapless mom.

You look at the watch; it is 8:00 AM already. You rush through your chores, make that call, get your emails done, take shower, wolf down your breakfast, help your daughter pack and woosh! Faster than a speeding bullet, you get into the car, drive like Bond to her school and then make your way to the office like a seasoned formula one driver (unless you have a driver who takes of that one).

You settle down in the office and get lost in all the work until it is 11:00 AM and your brain decides it needs a coffee. So you amble down to the vending machine and as you fill your cup, Malhotra from Commercial, touches your elbow. `Can you believe what’s happening to the Commonwealth Games…did you read the headlines today?’

You turn around, clap Malhotra on the shoulder and launch into an informed tirade about the subject. You offer deep perspectives, counter opinions, profound analytics and a well rounded opinion on what should be done now to remedy the situation. Malhotra nods in agreement and you both finish your cups, promising to catch up in the afternoon to discuss couple of the other news items.

You reach your chair: a picture of confidence and the intercom rings. It’s the Boss. He wants to discuss the budget today. You freeze, you hem, you haw, your mind goes numb, you get the sweats and then ask meekly, `Boss, the sales accounts figures need some reworking, I spoke to Percy this morning but I need to ensure that they are correct, can we do this on say, Monday please?’

This is the third time you have postponed this. The boss sighs, after all, you are a good manager and the two of you are friends. So he says, `OK…But please don’t extend beyond that.’ You promise not to, and hang up.

The look of confidence has now disappeared. You peer at the spreadsheet you have been working on for over a week now and somehow, the numbers still don’t make sense. You are not sure, if all the explanations are provided, you wonder if you have all the backup data, you wonder what kind of questions would the boss ask. Your palms begin to sweat, you pick up the phone and call two of the Assistant Managers in your team. You tell them to drop everything and begin working with you on this.

One thing that you conveniently forget is that you are a CA with around fifteen years of experience. You are well experienced in budgeting with tons of knowledge in this process. So then, why do you sweat?

Now let’s examine this scenario: You, who are well qualified in this process, experienced in that field, have been working on that budget for a week and are still unable to discuss it with the boss. You need more time. Yet, this is the same person, who in between the mad rush of his morning chores, having spent just around ten minutes, glancing at a newspaper, is able to wax eloquently about the news items he has read without requiring any preparation, whatsoever!

How many times has this happened to us? Let’s think about it…

Why does this happen?

Let’s rewind to the morning: During the mad rush in the morning, when you grabbed your newspaper and sat down with your tea, you were (believe it or not) relaxed. Now why was that? Well, you did not put any pressure on yourself to understand the contents of the newspaper. The moment you did that, Bingo! Your brain began to absorb the contents and guess what happened, you gained insights!

Therefore, when Malhotra tapped your elbow and began the subject, you were able to wax eloquent on it. You had opinions, deep analytics and even remedies ready for discussion! Gosh! You could make the finest presentation on that subject simply, impromptu! And remember, you have no experience or expertise in that particular area.

But at the same time, when it comes to the budget, something that you are qualified for (you are a CA, remember?), working on it for the past week, you are still unable to have a conversation (you will, on Monday, but after tons of preparation).

So why did that happen?

Think…While reading the newspaper, you did not put pressure on yourself to understand. While making the budget, you are constantly pressurizing yourself to understand.

Well. That’s necessary, you will say, the boss expects me to understand you say, my team needs to understand you say….
And that, my good friend, is precisely it! We live in a world where there is this pressing need to understand! This deep rooted need stems from our schooling, college and then professional qualification platforms. Everywhere, we seem to be running around to create an understanding; we are either trying to understand or trying to be understood. This endless action of ours creates only one thing, knowledge!

Great, you say, that’s necessary, you say. And I don’t disagree with you.
But consider this, when you were reading the newspaper and not trying to understand, you got, insights! With insights, you were able to wax eloquent about all the news items you glanced through in those ten minutes.
Now imagine you working with that budget without putting yourself under the pressure to understand…What would you get?

Yes, you are right: Insights!

Then you would not need those extra days to prepare for more understanding. You would develop profound opinions, deep rooted analytics and be able to charm the boss with your eloquence the way you did Malhotra from accounts!
Don’t believe me? Try it, it’s that simple, and let me know how it went!

And yes, when it begins to work for you, can you then ask your colleagues to adopt this approach? If we free ourselves from the pressure to understand, we develop insights. Imagine working in an environment where people operate on insights as against simply knowledge platform…Now how insightful would that be?

Shantanu Dhar is Asst. Executive Director - Dalmia Cement (Bharat) Ltd.


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Topics: Watercooler, C-Suite

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