Knowledge Versus Experience

I have been a bit distracted for the past few days, thinking about a few projects I am working on, as well as trying to create some original content for a client. I have been able to spend a little time reading, though not as much time as I would like. One thing I have noticed recently is that some of the practitioners get a little defensive every once in a while, as well as….well picky when it comes to individual words, and definitions. One of the people who I had a less that enjoyable experience with recently chose to call me a “Social CRM Troll” – this is the same person who said on Twitter: “When I say it is semantics, I mean that I really think you are wrong, but I do not want to waste my time engaging.” At the heart of the issue, really, is that in addition to the vendors, consultants and analysts are working to build their (our) credibility. I would hope that we can get it done together, not at the expense of one another.

What is in a Word?

Is there a difference between “credibility” and “trust?” How about “ownership” versus “control?” What about “influence” and “empowerment” (that is a trick question, lots of good posts on that this past week).  Feel free to pick on any one of these, some have their own threads going elsewhere. The set I am picking on today is ‘Knowledge‘ versus ‘Experience‘. Why? Because too many people are confusing one with the other, and some are actually falling short on both (ie, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and you do not have experience). This post is not directed, in its entirety, at any one individual, so please do not be so ‘vain, to think this blog is about you’ as the song kind of goes.  If you see yourself in here, well, hey take something away from it (I know I am).

Much of what we are all talking about and doing with respect to Social Media, Social Marketing, Social Selling, Social Business and Social CRM is so new that very very few people can possibly be talking or writing from a position of significant experience. Some people are talking/writing eloquently, in the form of case studies, so we can all learn from the few experiences that do exist.  Taking information provided by others, adding some of their own interpretations and posting a blog, an article, giving a talk or sharing a video. So, here is my question: “Does writing about someone else’s experience provide knowledge”? I am not a philosopher, nor a sociologist, but I wonder about that – call me an intellectual, academic, geek, I can take the hit. I think is important, and valuable, just wondering.

It is the Combination that is Powerful

Which is more dangerous, experience without knowledge, or knowledge without experience? One direction is easy:  the book smart, well read individual who is a little green. The other side is a little harder to imagine, but one that I think might actually cause bigger issues. You might think of it as ‘street smarts’ or success veiled by serendipity, misinterpreted as knowledge. I can tell you, from a position of both knowledge and experience, that time spent listening (not waiting to talk) is time well spent. Do not get me wrong, I do get a bit passionate as was the case with a blogger earlier this week. My issue, however, was his lack of humility. I can admit when I am wrong, (I could be sarcastic and say it does not happen often, but I won’t go there) and my approach is direct, but does not typically start with “Very few people, aside from me” or “you cannot argue with…”

I rely on the combination of knowledge and experience to get me through the day. Limitations of one, knowledge, can more easily be made up for by reading, research and learning. Experience is tougher, but you can either bring people in, those whom you trust, to fill a gap, or talk to as many people as you can to see if you can replace a slight lack of experience with more knowledge. I admire the people that work hard to extend their knowledge (publicly even), as the public sharing can accelerate the process. I am not saying that will always work, as a matter of fact, it might be downright dangerous in some situations. But, we are all on the journey together. We need bridge builders, not egos and more people willing to consider the possibility that they are not always right. I believe this to be especially true with bloggers. If you really are a blogger, then engagement is more important than your schedule to put up another post. Sorry, I will stand firm on that one.

Too awkward a post for a Wednesday?

11 thoughts on “Knowledge Versus Experience

  1. Heavy stuff for a Wednesday 😉

    This topic brings to mind the Woody Allen line (from Annie Hall): ‘those who can’t do teach, and those who can’t teach, teach gym.’ This certainly applies to the consulting/blogging/guru biz. Yes, there are some brilliant observers who can bring a composite perspective on a new topic like social media and add immeasurable value. But there are also too many ‘experts’ who as you say observe others’ experiences and confuse that with being experienced.

    We definitely need bridge builders, but I’ll always prefer to work with one who has actually built bridges before vs. one who just wrote a book on the world’s best bridges.


  2. Allen,

    That is a great line, one that I will laugh at, just not too loudly as I happen to know a few gym teachers from my neighborhood and they are good people 🙂 . I also like your reference at the end. Building bridges is going to take effort from all of us, and I have been looking for those bridge builders.

    While I believe that some have done it, and read books even as well, they are spending a lot more time writing books, talking to each other (the like minded, who validate their own opinion, I might add) where they should be reaching out beyond their own echo chambers. I am a bit guilty of that myself, I admit it, working daily to correct it. I have confidence that I have found people who can teach, and who are willing to learn.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


  3. Mitch,

    Interesting points (even for a Wednesday). I agree in so many ways – and will not get into them all here. But I applaud you for saying what I think a lot of us have been thinking at many of these events. I have mentioned it in passing in a few posts and in conversations. The issue with technology is that there has long been a buzzword culture afoot. The problem with social CRM is that it is so much more about the practice than theory right now in my opinion. And the problem is, the Twitter echo chamber is rife with theorists and not practitioners.

    The ones actually doing a lot of the more interesting things with social media for their brands are not touting about their success – they are actually in the trenches working hard and probably not about to give up their secrets to success.

    Honestly, I would trade a single “how to” seminar on creating a social campaign for the thousands of “Hey, your customers are out there – what are you doing about it?” useless speeches from blowhards any day.


  4. Mitch, I tend to agree with you, on Twitter everyone has a soapbox and in the case where you were called “a troll”, a bullhorn. My mother taught me at a young age, “empty vessels make the most noise.” That said, I have to weigh in on your knowledge vs. experience premise. I think there are good and bad in every bunch. Look at Garter or Forrestor, their analysts although not hands on, do add value to their customers IT decisions. They listen and cull data points and educate and editorialize on directional trends that add value to companies in a decision process. Another case, look at Elaine Young professor at Champlain College, is she more valuable to one company or more valuable sending us droves of students who understand the social scene?

    I do agree, if I was looking to build a bridge, I would want someone who actually built a bridge, but in the case of Social CRM, there is value in listening and picking out the best options that fit culture and budgets. After all, wasn’t it you who said last week, “…if Henry Ford asked his customers what they wanted, they would of asked for faster horses”

    Just my two cents.

  5. Mitch,

    You are a troll that lives under a bridge that you helped build. Not sure what the person was claiming for himself.

    Now to your muse about knowledge vs experience. Personally, it is not about X vs Y for me, for most such stuff. May be it is a cultural thing, but I have to have harmony, not discord. Call it orthogonal, two sides of a coin, yin yang, ardhanari, whatever.

    Social CRM, when it comes down to working it out in the trenches, is going to be a team effort. And the team building is going to be key to the success/failure of the program as much as any other aspect. Key to that team building exercise would be the requisite blend of knowledge & expertise. Old & young. Management & employees. Wizened war horses & young rookies. Boomers & Gen Y. Seasoned CRM heavy treaders & savvy Social Media slicks.

    However, I would certainly lean towards experience than knowledge when it comes to the program, but would be ok to lean towards the knowledge than experience in the projects. Since when it comes to the whole program, you need to consider business ramifications, culture shock, change management, legal, compliance & various other governance, etc. And the projects would be where you would experiment with the various channels, tools, etc.

    Yes, we are the #actrolls – people who bridge the gap (and live under it). 😉


    Thinker, Tinkerer, Connector|

  6. Hi Mitch,

    I think as such the reasoning here is not so much about knowledge vs experience, but rather what you do with what you have – your ability to extract insights and make previously unthought-of combinations of knowledge and experiences that allows your client, your department, organisation, your customers or whomever to progress in their specific context and reach their desired outcomes.

    I don’t think we fundamentally disagree, I’m just saying that what this is really about is what reduces the risks and consequences of not reaching the desired outcomes to a level that is acceptable for the person or organisation that is employing you. And it may be worth the risk of “putting faith” in pure “knowledge-based” insights as there may simply not be any precedents on which experience has been built…


  7. @Prem/@Mark – Thanks to both for thoughts, much appreciated.

    I am focusing a little more on the written words of dozens of blogs written by people who are advice givers without humility. Those who appear inflexible and seem to mistake knowledge for experience. I am looking for applied knowledge based on experience or recognition of what is provided. Mark, to me this how you actually reduce the risks and reach your desired outcomes (well put). If we all ‘go in’ with eyes wide open and understand the risks, then I am comfortable (well mostly).

    I do believe that there are different types of experience(s), and I do have confidence in people who have built systems before. I am a little more concerned with people who read about building systems, and now both the type of system being built and the act of building it are both new (lacking in experience). People build on what they know, which is some combination of knowledge and experience. This combination is not necessarily within one individual, a team of people can certainly (and should certainly) be an approach that mitigates risk and achieves success!

    Thanks Gents

  8. Mitch,

    first, I think I have to appologize for my tweet last week on the troll topic. I wasn’t aware that you were the target of the comment. I’ve been witnessing real troll-like behavior on line over the past several weeks. Thus, my comment about a troll is a troll – lives under the bridge and emerges briefly to take pot shots at those that have real courage to put their ideas out there and be exposed. I put you, Prem and others in this community in that category. There are others in other communities within which I participate who demonstrate the same courage for the purpose of greater understanding, betterment of ideas and collective intellectual, personal and professional growth. So, why you would be referred to as a troll, not sure. But I have not witnessed it.

    In this other scenario, the behavior is actually directed from those that have knowledge (book smarts) towards those that actually have both, without any basis of understanding of their targets’ breadth of experience AND knowledge. That’s just bad form…and thats all I have to say about that.

    As for the question of which is more dangerous. I think its a toss up. Knowledge and experience are permanently connected in continuous loop. Or at least should be. Where this loop breaks is where the issues arise. Experience without knowledge means you have gained no knowledge from your experiences. You have gone through an experience, or life, blind. You have not absorbed your experiences and used them to further your knowledge. Knowlege without experience means you have not put yourself out there, exposed yourself to possibilities, stood naked on the sidewalk and absorbed and learned.

    Which is more dangerous? Both.
    (are we even talking about the same thing? Was your experience related to mine? Hard to tell. Maybe we explore that over a beer someday)


  9. Let it go Mitch. It was an unfortunate set of circumstances, that frankly seems beneath either of us to have played a role in. Let’s leave it at that. From what I can see we seem to have much more in common than we do different, so how about we build that bridge you’re talking about? Want to bro-hug it out, sit by the campfire, and sing kum-ba-ya?

    As for knowledge vs. experience. I’m not sure you can truly have one without the other. Data without experience is simply information, it is the application of that information through experience that builds knowledge in my opinion. In an industry as undefined and nascent as scrm (or really any social variant) the best you can do in many cases is find those with close correlary experiences/knowledge to mitigate risks. Basically, it’s all relative. The mom and pop down the street doesn’t need our experience deploying multi-million dollar systems, but they do need something and someone who can provide some semblance of scrm benefits. There needs to be enough people and systems along that graph to service the differing needs and budgets of all of them. Would I put that guy in charge of a enterprise deployment or vice versa? No way, but they may both have ‘experience and knowledge’ valuable to their target customer.

  10. @Matt – I do not completely disagree – though I am not quite sure about the bro-hug. The core part of the issue, my opinion of course, is that discourse is actually part of the process. Everything and everyone is more social, project success and failure is much more dependent upon the people interactions versus technical I defer to friend Michael Krigsman who has lots of data as well as case studies.

    I disagree with pulling down the comments we had, as they may actually provide insights to people on what the core issues might be in a CRM deployment, Enterprise 2.0 or what ever it is. By many accounts, technology is only 20% of the problem, helping people through, or showing ways to get past people issues is valuable. If our disagreement, the interpretation of the written word, a reference from a friend/peer which may escalate things can help someone else, I think it is valuable. The right answer in the enterprise would be – pick up the phone!! that was my mistake – I apologize for that.

    As for the knowledge/experience – need to think more, you raise some good points.

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