Knowing and understanding

The other day I had a conversation with a client, and he made it a point to mention that he “knows” how Design and Video Editing projects work. Fine with me, except that the project was out of control for 99% per cent of the time.

It was deeply dissatisfying as we had difficulty dealing with scope creep and the client’s changing priorities. Those are a beginner or amateur-level challenges, not for professionals like us. But it happened nonetheless.

While on the 162nd project call with the same client, I noticed something peculiar — this person’s most common response to anything was, “yeah, I know how that works” or “yes, I know that” to almost everything we were presenting. This time, it made me wonder if “knowing” was enough to understand something?

I know it’s weird to think of philosophical questions right in the middle of a crisis, but I couldn’t help myself. Clearly, this person didn’t understand what a design or video production process is like. He just “knew it.”

Understand that (no pun intended) “knowing” is acquired from experiences and education. One may have worked with a design or video team in the past or had a chance to read about the design or video production process. Understanding as a concept is a psychological process of thinking! It’s at a much deeper level than knowing.

The latter is processed in the mind while the former (understanding) is processed in the brain! It takes years to understand something but only minutes to know what’s it about.

I love this definition by Ephrat Livni, a correspondent with QZ:

“Knowing” and “understanding” are related concepts, but they’re not the same. Each is a distinct mental state involving cognitive grasp: Knowing is static, referring to discrete facts, while understanding is active, describing the ability to analyze and place those facts in context to form a big picture.

Without knowledge, understanding is impossible. But knowing doesn’t necessarily lead to a greater narrative, which is the real point of gathering information.

I honestly hate it when people brush things off and say, “yeah, I know what it’s like…” or “I know how that works.” It just means that they know it superficially but don’t understand it, but if that’s so, it’s wise to let the experts do their stuff — because they actually understand how things work.

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