On the Shoulders of Giants

by Brian SperonelloIcon

Internalized vs. Intellectual Knowledge

I think that there are two kinds of knowledge — internalized knowledge and intellectual knowledge. Think of intellectual knowledge as the potential for internalized knowledge. Intellectual knowledge is what you learn passively, from things like reading books, watching documentaries, or taking instructional courses. It's entirely conceptual, while internalized knowledge only reveals itself on our behavior.

For example, I know from 48 Laws of Power that I should "think as I like, but behave like others" (Law 38), but at work I still have difficulty biting my tongue when my values run against what is commonly accepted, and occasionally it gets me in trouble. There are times that I remember this law and hold back, but it's not habitual yet. Intellectual knowledge turns into internalized knowledge when it becomes ingrained in our decision making; when a theory transitions into a behavioral habit.

Robert Greene references the German term "Fingerspitzengefühl," which was made popular by Field-Marshal Erwin Rommel, who was nicknamed the Desert Fox during World War II for the fearsomely successful strategies he used to repeatedly beat the Allies in North Africa. The literal translation is "finger tips feeling," but the interpretation is that once you have achieved mastery of a given skill you operate without thinking, and instead rely on a certain level of intuition or "touch" — your "finger tips feeling" or Fingerspitzengefühl. It is at this point that intellectual knowledge becomes internalized knowledge, when all of the study and learning unconsciously become permanent parts of our behavior.

The hardest part about internalizing knowledge is that more study won't help you. You have to actually implement the concepts to develop internalized knowledge, and it takes a tremendous number of repetitions and failures before the behavior becomes a habit. Acquiring more intellectual knowledge will definitely help you get better insight and expand your mindset. But are you doing anything to turn these theories into actions?


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