Sarah and I were taking a stroll tonight, when we came up with a lighthearted but also insightful way to categorize our friends. Here it is.
Knowledge, Skills, Insight, Wisdom. These are different kinds of intelligence. You can understand some people by figuring which of these four they value the most.
Let’s imagine someone named Steven. Steven lives in SF. He is a hacker and loves building things. He has a book club, and handpicks the people who he invites. He might value skills, then knowledge, then insight, then wisdom.
Let’s imagine someone else named Ingrid. Ingrid is an academic with a side hustle of being a columnist for a publication that sees itself as the next Slate. She writes hot takes and also avidly consumes advice columns. Ingrid values insight by far. Then wisdom, knowledge, and lastly skills.
Steven might not really understand Ingrid. Or vice versa. They’re both smart! They both are intellectual, even. But they value different things.
So, what are these axes? Let’s go deeper.
- Skills: The obvious one. Doing things.
- Knowledge: Being a collector, almost aesthete, of facts. This could be metadata or non-traditional facts too.
- Insight: Being able to understand situations and systems. An analytic understand of models of how everything functions
- Wisdom: The sense of what’s important now. Intuition. Knowing the real question that is being asked when someone asks for advice.
Wisdom is the trickiest to define, so let’s give an example:
Someone with high insight, but low wisdom, would be able to explain office politics amazingly well, but not be able to actually thrive in the system.
Someone with high wisdom, but low insight, would be able to do the local more-or-less optima in each situation they found themselves in, but maybe wouldn’t bother thinking about the question in the first place.
Thinking about different kinds of leftist is a useful illustrative example.
Leftists with high insight would be able to explain capitalism, various smaller systems (prison industrial complex? city politics) and explain what’s happening and how it fits to bigger ideas.
Leftists with high wisdom would be the nice ones. They mediate a lot. They have good gut feelings about which people to talk to, about what. (This is the hardest to put my finger on.)
Leftists with high knowledge know every organization, know the heads of organizations. Know all about what happened in the october revolution. Have read Capital.
Leftists with high skills can actually organize.
Values vs Identity
Here’s the catch, though! What you have is not always what you value.
For example: I really value wisdom. I seek advice from elders, peers, strangers, etc. I constantly worry that I’m doing the risky or wrong thing, and respect people who have that ineffable aura of having life figured out.
I value it, but I think it’s clear that I have more insight than wisdom. That’s why I get into trouble sometimes in social or political situations.
Similarly, I am high skilled. I can code, data crunch, write, political campaign, email blast, social butterfly, etc. But I value knowledge more. That’s why I read history books for fun, collect JustSeeds posters, and my arduino kit is still unopened.
Understand relationships, not just people
It’s great to use this as a tool for understanding people, but perhaps it’s even more useful to think about how this relates to people’s relationships with *each other*.
Are two people not getting along? Maybe one just doesn’t value the sort of intelligence the other has. Maybe it’s the opposite, and they’re feeling threatened. Imagine a person who highly values knowledge, but feels like they have very little. They might have a weird relationship with a very knowledge-heavy person. Etc.
It also covers relationships with the self. I can think of a few people who have healthy self esteem off the top of my head. All of them seem to value the sort of intelligence that they seem strongest in.
Where to go from here
It’s a fun game to think of people in your life, and then rank them. What do they value most and least? What do they have most and least?
Once you’ve done so, compare notes with them. Does their self-assesment match up to what you thought?
On that subject, what is your self-assessment? What do you value? What are your actual attributes?
Here’s a caveat: this isn’t meant to be a unified theory of all personalities. Some people value, say, Charisma! Or loyalty. There are tons of different qualities. But it does serve as a useful map for understanding a certain type of people.
Does that make sense? Questions? Thank you for listening to my Ted Talk.