Knowledge vs. Wisdom

By Coach Ron Wolforth-


“Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit.
Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.”
– Anonymous


“Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life.”
– Immanuel Kant


“Lots of people seek knowledge. We like to appear smart and impress our peers. But is knowledge really what we should be striving for?…If knowledge is knowing a bunch of stuff, wisdom is being able to retain and implement that stuff in practical applications.”
– Jason Gutierrez



Baseball coaches everywhere talk about how the game of baseball itself is chocked full of life lessons and is a fabulous tool for teaching about life.


At the Texas Baseball Ranch® we wholeheartedly agree and one of those incredible life lessons is recognizing the critical distinction between knowledge and wisdom.


We, as baseball coaches, are constantly trying to translate knowledge and data into meaning and wisdom in our efforts to assist our athletes and our organizations. That pursuit is a very valid and necessary one.


But there are many pitfalls waiting for us along our journey.


Here are a few of them:


Thinking that having knowledge
is the same thing as having wisdom.


It isn’t!


Saber-metrics are all over baseball now.  Data, statistics and information rule baseball.  Much of that development and evolution is actually a very good and helpful thing.  At the Ranch we utilize Trackman, FlightScope, Sportsboard, Sparta and Baseball Cloud on a regular basis.  But following saber-metrics and interpreting its possible meaning or impact is not without peril or possible misinterpretation.


For example: The average depth of Lake Conroe is just 20.5 feet.  That number is pure data.  That number is knowledge about the lake.  But negotiating nimbly all around Lake Conroe on a typical August weekend on a 26′ Colbalt SD…well…that would shift the requirements far more toward the wisdom side of the continuum.


Data can be and often indeed is vitally important in our development of wisdom…but make no mistake…there are scores of people in the world, in every arena, who are quite knowledgable about a particular subject but lack prudence and discernment.


We all have lived through this phenomena again and again in our personal lives.  We have experienced the person who sounds intelligent, who is quite impressive in his or her knowledge of a specific topic but they can’t seem to see the forrest for the trees.


Classic examples in baseball are:

Coaches or trainers who prescribe a certain drill or dictate a specific movement pattern without a thorough understanding of the possible negative side effects or corruption that might occur if the dosage, frequency, application, interpretation or execution is misapplied or mis managed.


I’ve personally made this mistake numerous times over my 28 year coaching career.  One can become dangerous as a teacher/ leader when one thinks of player development as a monolithic, standardized, universal process.  I have learned repeatedly over the past 25+ years that just because you think you have a fail safe, brilliant, effective system, it doesn’t mean that you do.   


Drills are obviously never a panacea for anything.  We believe its far more helpful if you view your drills as tools and/or a stimulus to assist in eliciting a particular response.


Every drill, no matter how apparently brilliant,  has an inherent strength and every drill has an inherent weakness and if you don’t know both, but especially the latter, you probably should use the drill very cautiously or not at all. 


In the training of baseball throwing athletes, just like in almost every arena or profession, a specific niche of well known influencers are continually very busy trying to impress each other with their knowledge and consequently expanding their fan base.  I see it every single day from my unique perch.


Social media only makes this process more inflammatory, vitriolic and expeditious.  The speed and volume of knowledge acquisition today is both a Blessing and a curse.


It’s easier than ever to get caught up in the ‘smartest guy in the room’ competition. 


It’s very tempting to forward your current position as thoughtful, innovative, insightful and ground breaking.  It’s also tempting to frame your critics, competition or rivals as just the opposite: obsolete, crazy, arrogant, ignorant, incompetent, inept and/or misinformed.


What I often find rather humorous is that quite frequently the position someone may have held just a few short years ago and championed as brilliant and savvy is now a position singled out by this exact same person as a position justified for derision and distain.


It often causes me to think, “What a minute, didn’t just a couple weeks ago you said ‘X’ was brilliant and ‘Y’ was amateurish?  Now, your new position is ‘X’ is amateurish and ‘Z’ is brilliant?”


How can those two things be concurrently true?  When you believed ‘X’ was true, it was a position of virtue and intellectual prowess.  Now you believe in ‘Z ‘, ‘X’ is NOW a position of inferiority and incompetence?  Huh?  How can that be?


There may even be a few who say, ‘That previous description doesn’t apply to me. I have always believed different than my competitive peer group.”


Ok.  Fair enough.  I’ll take you at your word.  I have a another question for you.


Do you today believe something much different than you did just 5 or 10 years ago?  Almost everyone doesn’t hesitate with an affirmative answer.


My response then is, “Well, weren’t you a sincere and honest broker of information and knowledge back then?  I assume you were.  So do you think it’s really a good idea to attack or besmirch someone simply because they currently are on a different path and/or weren’t privy to the experience, facts or data that you were?


I sincerely don’t think that’s an honorable critique.


We’ve Got Research on Our Side!


Then there is the incredible temptation to use research and data to shut down critique or bludgeon opposing viewpoints.


First point: Data is NOT the same as research.  I believe it is imperative to stop behaving as if they are one in the same.  They are decidedly NOT. 


Research obviously can have weight!  Data, until it is placed inside a specific context and/or interpreted as a relationship to something else, it is often a non sequitur. 


For example, data clearly shows that at the scene of almost every automobile accident there are skid marks from tires.  This is absolutely true and those specific facts are not in dispute.


However, to make the connection between the raw data and the event and suggest that because these marks are at the scene of almost every accident they somehow are integral in causing the accident goes too far.


This is commonly referred to in research circles as an inferential leap.


Knowing that at the scene of the accident there are almost always skid marks is knowledge.  Wisdom is knowing their possible relationship to the accident itself. Wisdom is knowing what they could mean and what they don’t mean.  Wisdom is in the humility and curiosity of the application of that knowledge.


The baseball world today is, unfortunately, chocked FULL of inferential leaps. Knowledge, data and facts are not in short supply.


In your career as a player or as a coach, I strongly suggest you are on the constant quest for wisdom, and along that journey continually remind yourself that while we seek knowledge, it is decidedly not the same as wisdom.


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