Knowledge > Intelligence

using an analogy from the kitchen

Chris Lee
Oct 4, 2017 · 4 min read

Imagine a chef. Let’s say he’s the most brilliant chef in the world —maybe he owns many Michelin star restaurants, a few TV shows, and is also known for shouting really mean things to people in a British accent.

Now put that chef next to me (I’ve managed to ruin instant noodles), and task us each with coming up with the best dish possible. The caveat is, we have two ingredients only — quinoa and kale. Nothing else.

Not even salt and pepper. As much as I love starchy grains and bitter green leaf vegetables, I can tell you with confidence that neither me nor Gordon Ramsey himself would be able to make a great dish.

I’d argue efficacy in the workplace works the same way. Try running a business as a specialist when the only knowledge you have is accounting! Most likely, you won’t get very far.

We see this everywhere, evidenced by attitudes like “Build it and they will come”, where developers think that if they make the best product it will automatically sell itself. If that were the case, marketing and salespeople wouldn’t have jobs!

There’s a reason why managers, executives, and leaders in general prefer surface-level understanding of many different topics than deep vertical knowledge of one.

Not to say the specialists aren’t useful, but if the goal is to be the most valuable person at a company — only having kale and quinoa to work with won’t get you there.

It gives you a leg up when you’re not the smartest guy in the room

When I debate with other product people— it’s often very clear to me that I’m not the smartest guy in the room.

My mind moves slower, my answers take longer, sometimes I even contradict myself as I try and keep up with the pace of the conversation.

When that happens I feel like the kid at McDonald’s who can’t decide what he wants, standing there holding up the line asking what the price of everything is while getting snappy responses from the guy behind the till.

Then someone discusses a topic where I have a deep knowledge-base to draw from — and that’s when a grin spreads across my face. I can pull from my toolbox things that have been acquired from learning about a variety of different fields.

The person I’m speaking to at best can use his or her quick logic to challenge the concepts I present— but that’s about the extent to which he or she can provide value.

Intelligence doesn’t compound, knowledge does

I’m a firm believer that if you continue to challenge your thinking, you’ll flex a muscle that can grow over time. In that sense, I do believe that a person can become more intelligent.

However, relative to the acquisition of knowledge, I think it pales in comparison.

Maybe you can workout your “logic muscles” to be 100% faster than they were before, so you’re more effective at debates. But if you’re a voracious reader, the amount that you can do with the knowledge you have will grow exponentially.

“Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”

— Warren Buffett

Read only one more book than the person next to you a month, and in a year you’ll have consumed 12 more “tools” than him or her. That’s 12 more ingredients you can use for your cooking, 12 more sources of knowledge that will make you more effective at decision making.

Now multiply that by a decade, and you have yourself a gourmet pantry fully stocked for incredible recipes, while the guy next to you is still at best limited to a quinoa kale salad. Delicious.

The more tools you have at your disposal, the more you can experiment. So get reading, get learning, and just start piling those tools up in your shed.

I guarantee sometime in your future you’ll find occasions where you’ll be synthesizing those tools in surprisingly useful ways. Maybe, you’ll even strike flint with steel.

Becoming a voracious consumer of knowledge is better than simply being intelligent. But to really workout your brain,

I’ve personally found that the next step is to break down and challenge the knowledge you consume. Read about how to do that in “The most important skill I’ve learned in the last decade”

Startup Grind

The life, work, and tactics of entrepreneurs around the world. Welcoming submissions on technology trends, product design, growth strategies, and venture investing. Learn more about how you can get involved at

Chris Lee

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Chris Lee

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Startup Grind

The life, work, and tactics of entrepreneurs around the world. Welcoming submissions on technology trends, product design, growth strategies, and venture investing. Learn more about how you can get involved at