Information vs. Knowledge, Part 2

Ian Lurie

It’s a lot harder to impart knowledge than to pass information. But it’s also worth it, because knowledge sticks.

Why does application teach better than rote memorization? Hmmm let’s think. Oh yeah—because application creates knowledge, which quickly remaps neural pathways. Memorization sends us into an information-overload daze, which leads to sad, lonely little neurons. If you’re teaching others it’s a lot more work to put together a lesson plan that delivers knowledge: You have to create examples and build your teaching around them. Transferring information is a heck of a lot easier: All you have to do is hand over a textbook and say “Read this 10 times. Quiz on Friday.”

This may be why I like Montessori so much. My kids have both been in a Montessori-style school for years. They’re already smarter than me.

Some examples:

The New York Times could hire cheaper writers, or republish Associated Press wires. That’d be easier. But they don’t. And their billing model is so successful that they’ve tightened down their ‘preview wall’ to 10, instead of 20 articles. They’re selling knowledge, in the form of fantastic writing & analysis by their journalists.

The music industry doesn’t understand that fans feel music is information. The right thing to do, if you’re a recording executive, is to convince folks music is knowledge. Which it is. The wrong thing to do? Sue the people who pay your bills.

News of the World recorded phone calls. Financial institutions have been pretty naughty. That’s because ‘ethics’ aren’t information. They’re knowledge. You have to live ethics in your corporate culture, every day. It’s really hard work.

OK, that sounds totally wrong. I don’t mean that I’m naturally evil, and therefore find it incredibly hard to behave myself on a daily basis. I mean that reinforcing good behavior across an entire company requires a lot of attention.

Anyway: Someone decided to reduce ethics to a list of rules (information) in an employee manual somewhere, because that was easier. Clearly, they stopped turning that information into knowledge. Foomp. Ethical implosion.

Where did this come from?

On Thursday I wrote that Information is free, and Knowledge is not. It’s an idea that’s embedded itself pretty deeply in my cerebrum. It’s not coming out.

Soooo, I decided to test the whole theory against current events, and a little life experience. That’s this post.

Let me know if you have your own examples that fit, or don’t fit, this whole hypothesis.

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at

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  1. I am glad that this topic has come out for discussion with these posts. This issue of knowledge and information is much more grave and goes beyond the corporate level.
    I had done a blog post on “The Quest To Differentiate Between Knowledge And Information” in July 2010 when this content explosion was just at the initial stages…
    My focus was mainly on the information available on the web. Considering the millions of blogs, social media accounts and websites mushrooming on the web. The main concern is the teens and tweens who are gathering life and world perceptions by reading what is written on the web.
    People in their teens and twenties are most of the time gathering information about everything under the sun on the web. How many of them after they google or bing a search can differentiate the grain from the chaff and decide which are the authority sites about that topic.

  2. Ian – love this post and the first post in this series. These are actually some of things I look for when pitching new clients. Clients that treat my expertise as information almost always turn out to be difficult, where relationships with clients who regard what I do as knowledge tend to be mutually beneficial.

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