There always had been an ongoing debate about the comparative importance of knowledge and experience. While according to one view knowledge is all pervasive and in the absence of knowledge experience by itself is nothing, but a process of trial and error. The other view on the other hand avers that knowledge without experience is of little or no use due to its fickleness. The debate became more widespread after theories and concepts of management especially human resource or people’s role became more prominent. Before going down deeply into this debate, let us first know what in simple or in common language knowledge and experience are.
The quality of knowing or having awareness about specific areas of human life, prevalent systems, processes, happenings and matters of importance to humans, obtained formally or informally, intentionally or unintentionally through the use of senses, books or experience, the ability to anticipate and provide rationale for the happenings, sum total or the extent of all the above may be described as knowledge. There is no doubt that knowledge gained through a formal and specified process of education has much more validity than the one gained by a process of observation or self –learning, but it cannot be excluded from the definition of knowledge.
The quality of possessing understanding and awareness about the outcome of interaction/ application of different things, facts, processes, methods resulting from having practically gone through them by participation or observation or derived from them may be described as experience. The ability to initiate, control and manage the above as well as actions or omissions and other conditions that may facilitate or adversely affect the outcome also form part of experience.
As the above meanings indicate knowledge and experience have common denominators and crisscross many areas.
Experience itself is one of the sources of knowledge and also gains strength from it. On the other hand, knowledge may provide the basis for experiments for its practical authentication leading to being experienced as a reality. In short while knowledge is more concerned with the theoretical aspects of a proposition, experience is the practical knowledge of happenings gained through repetition, observation or derivation. The two terms “Knowledge through experience” and “Practical knowledge” are indicative of their close relationship.
As far as the debate about the superiority of knowledge or experience over each other is concerned it seems that its main reason was the competition for getting a bigger seat at the organization table. Both knowledge and experience are important and the best scenario is knowledge with experience. The argument that mere theoretical knowledge is not sufficient to become a key for individual success has its strength, but similar is the case with the argument that mere repetition of doing the same thing over and over cannot be called experience. In order to be really effective both knowledge and experience need to be updated. The most well known management guru Peter Drucker very rightly emphasized that “Knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, or it vanishes”.
Knowledge and experience in many respects correspond to the qualities of intelligence and wisdom. We know that knowledge is closely related to intelligence as the following definition indicates:
Intelligence is the capacity to acquire and apply knowledge. A person is said to be intelligent who has the ability to quickly learn, understand, remember and apply all that he comes across by way of knowledge, events, situations or any form of happening.
Experience on the other hand is one of the essential parts of wisdom as described in its definition:
Wisdom is the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment. A person is said to be wise if he has the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing due to his ability to grasp facts and situations without having to adopt the course of reasoning.
A strong argument in favor of knowledge stipulates that experience is something that may anyhow be gained with the passage of time, but knowledge requires a deliberate effort to be undertaken and once it is not done it cannot be learned in the formal and systematic way resulting in a void that cannot be fulfilled. Even if in exceptional cases someone is able to acquire the requisite knowledge in tandem with experience by the time it is done it is time for him to receive pension. It is also argued that it is impossible to get experience of everything, but its knowledge can still be gained. For example, how a person can experience the actual conditions on moon before going there. In such cases the experience of others can be used that is available in the form of books or literature.
On the other hand the counter argument in favor of experience is that experience itself being a source of knowledge, the knowledge thus gained is more practical and effective in problem solving and decision making than the theoretical knowledge gained from books or in classes. There are many things that cannot be taught through books unless and until the learner goes through the actual environment and situation. It is also argued that once a person is addicted to the theoretical knowledge even the experience gained later on is made subservient to the theoretical knowledge leading to its improper application. They heavily rely on Albert Einstein’s following quote:
“Experience is knowledge. All the rest is information”.