The perfect equation which is needed to succeed in life

Intelligence Versus Wisdom: What’s the Difference?

Key Takeaways

  • Intelligence is composed of cognitive abilities such as curiosity, open-mindedness, and critical thinking.

  • Wisdom combines experience, good judgment, emotional intelligence to attain desirable life results.

  • To achieve success it is essential to balance both intelligence and wisdom through learning creativity & reflection while exercising emotional understanding & empathy.

Have you ever wondered why some highly intelligent individuals struggle with making sound decisions, i.e., Sam Bankman-Fried the failed FTX CEO is a great example, whilst others with seemingly lower intelligence demonstrate great wisdom? This fascinating topic of intelligence versus wisdom has intrigued philosophers, psychologists, and educators for centuries. In this blog post, we will uncover the differences between intelligence and wisdom, explore their interplay in the context of “intelligence versus wisdom,” and provide insights on how to cultivate both qualities for a more successful and fulfilling life.

Defining Intelligence and Wisdom

Thoughtful man, pondering the differences between each term

Intelligence and wisdom are often used interchangeably, but they represent distinct qualities. Intelligence primarily focuses on cognitive abilities and problem-solving, whilst wisdom involves experience, sound judgment, and emotional intelligence.

If we rely solely on the dictionary definitions, we would find that both intelligence and wisdom involve gaining knowledge. Knowledge is the compilation of facts and aptitudes attained through experience; furthermore, psychologist Robert Sternberg posits that wisdom has the potential to take a person further than the knowledge gained solely through intelligence.

Intelligence: Cognitive Abilities and Problem Solving

Intelligence is the capacity to utilize obtained scholastic knowledge or facts to execute tasks or make everyday decisions. Characteristics such as curiosity, adaptability, and critical thinking are typically exhibited by intelligent people, making an intelligent person stand out in various situations.

Dr. Robert Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory of Intelligence proposes that intelligence is composed of three distinct components: analytical, creative, and practical intelligence. Yet another psychologist, Howard Gardner, suggest that there are multiple types of intelligence including: musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalistic. Moreover, Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences includes skills such as creativity and critical thinking, suggesting that a “moral” intelligence could also be included, which goes beyond academic knowledge.

It is complicated as most topics which deal with the human mind. Intelligence, or wisdom for that matter, is like a color, there is not a single hue but a gradient of tones which provide different representations of the underlying base color. What I would emphasize is the intelligence (i.e., proxy for IQ), absent of wisdom (i.e., proxy for EQ), is utterly useless and we must strive for a balance of both for optimal outcomes.

Wisdom: Experience, Judgment, and Emotional Intelligence

Wisdom refers to the capacity to utilize knowledge attained through experience to attain more desirable life results. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, wisdom is defined as the ability to discern inner qualities and relationships, and it involves “good judgment”, which is a deep understanding of situations and emotions.

Academia also concludes the importance of good judgment, for instance Sir Andrew Likierman, professor at the London School of Business cite, “Leaders need many qualities, but underlying them all is good judgment.  Those with ambition but no judgment run out of money. Those with charisma but no judgment lead their followers in the wrong direction. Those with passion but no judgment hurl themselves down the wrong paths. Those with drive but no judgment get up very early to do the wrong things. Sheer luck and factors beyond your control may determine your eventual success, but good judgment will stack the cards in your favor”.

In Robert Sternberg’s Theory of Wisdom, wisdom is the application of one’s intelligence, creativity, common sense, and knowledge, with positive ethical values, to achieve a common good through a balance of intrapersonal, interpersonal, and extrapersonal interests. This view into wisdom is interesting since it involves ethics as part of the definition, specifically positive moral principles.

The secular worldview says that to gain wisdom we are an ongoing journey, which involves making mistakes, learning from them, and obtaining knowledge from respected individuals. This is not the only view of how to amass wisdom, scripture says that having reverence for God’s higher moral law and seeking to apply it in everyday situations is true wisdom.

The Interplay Between Intelligence and Wisdom

Although intelligence and wisdom are distinct concepts, they are interrelated and achieving equilibrium between the two is essential for success and sound decision-making as commented before. In the context of wisdom versus intelligence, intelligence provides the foundation for logical reasoning and problem-solving, while wisdom adds the elements of emotional understanding and ethical values.

Balancing Intelligence and Wisdom for Success

Balance of intelligence and wisdom which comes from the heart of man

Achieving both personal and professional success necessitates maintaining a balance between intelligence and wisdom, given their integral role in sound decision-making. Balancing intelligence and wisdom necessitates the application of knowledge and intelligence acquired in daily circumstances. It further necessitates employing one’s creativity, common sense, and ethical values to form decisions that are consistent with doing the right thing.

Intelligence and wisdom play different roles in decision-making.

  • Intelligence is primarily concerned with logical and rational thought processes.

  • Wisdom entails the use of intuition and emotional understanding.

  • Wisdom helps individuals identify the most appropriate course of action by taking into account past experiences and fundamental values.

Balancing intelligence and wisdom enables individuals to arrive at decisions that are both rational and emotionally sound, increasing the likelihood of successful outcomes.

A classic example of wisdom and decision-making is the story of the King Solomon from the Hebrew Bible in which he ruled between two women both claiming to be the mother of a child. Solomon revealed their true feelings and relationship to the child by suggesting to cut the baby in two, with each woman to receive half. You can read the story in 1 Kings 3:16-28.

Developing Intelligence and Wisdom: Strategies and Techniques

Wisdom and Knowledge

Strategies and techniques for the development of intelligence and wisdom include learning, creativity, critical thinking, life experiences, reflection, empathy, and creative intelligence.

Boosting Intelligence: Learning, Creativity, and Critical Thinking

Increasing intelligence may be accomplished through the practice of continual learning, the encouragement of creativity, and the refinement of critical thinking abilities. Learning is defined as the process of acquiring knowledge, skills, attitudes, or behaviors through study, experience, or teaching, involving the acquisition, retention, and application of information or abilities that can lead to a change in behavior or understanding.

Continuous learning facilitates the improvement of cognitive abilities and problem-solving skills, thereby ultimately boosting intelligence. Make learning a habit which will benefit you all throughout your life.  If you identify yourself as a “learner”, then you will always pursue knowledge, your habits will reflect your self-identity. 

Habits are not the same as your year-end resolution to lose weight, or to learn a new language. Habits, be it good or bad, are formed by repetition.  James Clear in his 2018 book Atomic Habits talk about the establishment of apparently insignificant habits which lead to large positive outcomes.  With enough time and focus, “atomic habits” leverage the compounding effect of time in our favor to amass great results. 

Besides gaining knowledge for intelligence’s sake, there are medical benefits to being a lifelong learner.  For one, engaging in mentally stimulating activities on a regular basis helps reduce the risk for certain neurological conditions, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. 

I encourage you to list what you desire to learn, make a laundry list, prioritize the list, and take small but consistent actions to learn that which is in your heart.  Consistency of habit is more important than intensity of habit, which is another way to understand the principle of ‘aggregate marginal gains’, which says if you improve by just 1% consistently, those small gains will add up to remarkable improvement.

Cultivating Wisdom: Life Experiences, Reflection, and Empathy

Wisdom comes in time and with life experiences

Cultivating wisdom involves cultivating good judgment which fundamentally is about distinguishing between right and wrong. There are two choices, apply our own morality in understanding between right and wrong , or embrace a higher moral law, that is, God’s law, to guide your decisions.

Right and wrong in the secular world is largely defined by the prevailing law of the land.  Take for instance North Korea, the dictatorship control everything in the country, even the haircuts that are allowed for women and men.  There is a state approved catalog of haircut styles which you must adhere to, otherwise you would be breaking the law. If you are unfortunate enough to live in this radical communist regime, you will definitely exercise good judgment in keeping to the state approved haircuts.  That said, Kim Jong Un by most standards, is not using good judgment in governing his country and people even though there are prevailing laws in North Korea.  And this is the crux of the problem, right and wrong is relative to our belief system.

Other means to augment wisdom necessitate reasoning through factual knowledge obtained from life experiences and applying it to the environment one inhabits. Life experiences have the capability to transform an individual and shape their viewpoint on the world, leading to a deeper understanding.

Self-reflection is also a key component of cultivating wisdom, as it necessitates taking the time to assess the circumstance and recognizing nuances. Developing empathy for others is a crucial component of cultivating wisdom, as it requires comprehending and regulating emotions, as well as possessing empathy and compassion.

Examples of Intelligence and Wisdom in Action

Intelligence in action

This section highlights examples emphasizing the significance of harmonizing analytical intelligence and wisdom, and the potential pitfalls of overreliance on either attribute, as just intelligence invariably plays a crucial role in decision-making processes.

Intelligent but Not Wise: Pitfalls of Overreliance on Intelligence

An overreliance on intelligence can result in conceit and suboptimal decisions, as it may be deficient in the emotional acumen and practical understanding that wisdom offers. Highly intelligent individuals may excel academically or professionally, but without the moral compass and emotional intelligence that wisdom provides, they may struggle with making sound decisions that consider the well-being of all involved.

Wisdom is the ability to make decisions that are not only beneficial to oneself, but also to others. In this sense, wisdom leads to actions that promote the greater good for all involved.

A prime example of this of this concept comes from the FTX debacle.  Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF) went from Forbe’s under 30 billionaires to being the laughingstock of the crypto world.  The former FTX CEO fell from the pinnacle of financial success to being ridiculed in the media in just a few months. Many things can be said of SBF, for one he seems to be highly intelligent, at least from an IQ perspective.  Notwithstanding his IQ, SBF seems to be quite naïve and frankly silly (i.e., absent of wisdom).  Did he really believe he could run one of the top crypto exchanges in the world without controls, proper accounting, non-existing risk management, and using customer funds as his own without being caught? What a silly boy!

Wise but Not Necessarily Intelligent: The Power of Practical Knowledge

Individuals who possess more practical knowledge and emotional intelligence are wise, even if they are not necessarily highly intelligent. This valuable knowledge contributes to effective decision-making. The potency of practical knowledge lies in its capacity to:

  • Foster self-learning

  • Accustom individuals with tools and equipment

  • Grant a more profound comprehension through real-life encounters and individual application.

Wisdom in these individuals allows them to navigate life’s challenges with insight and understanding, even if their intelligence scores may not be considered exceptional.

The Role of Emotional Intelligence in Wisdom

Emotional intelligence is key

Emotional intelligence plays a significant role in wisdom, involving understanding and managing emotions, as well as empathy and compassion.

Understanding and Managing Emotions

Emotional intelligence is crucial for self-awareness, self-regulation, and understanding the emotions of others. To comprehend emotions, individuals may engage in activities such as listening and documenting their emotions daily, expressing their feelings to others, analyzing emotions displayed by others, enlarging their emotional lexicon, assessing the intensity of the emotion, and writing about their emotions.

Managing emotions involves practicing self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-compassion, as well as employing mindfulness, relaxation techniques, and cognitive reframing.

Empathy and Compassion: Key Components of Wisdom

Empathy and compassion, rooted in human nature, are essential elements of wisdom, allowing individuals to establish connections with others and make decisions that take into account the welfare of all concerned.

Empathy is the capacity to comprehend and relate to the emotions and experiences of others, while compassion is the capacity to discern and react to the distress of others with benevolence and insight. By recognizing and responding to the distress of others with compassion and understanding, individuals can make judicious decisions that are advantageous to all.

Measuring Intelligence and Wisdom

The perfect equation which is needed to succeed in life

Measuring intelligence and wisdom involves different approaches, with standardized assessments for intelligence and subjective evaluation for wisdom.

Upcoming subsections detail specific methods for quantifying intelligence, such as IQ tests and standardized assessments, and discuss the subjective aspect of evaluating wisdom.

IQ Tests and Standardized Assessments for Intelligence

IQ tests and standardized assessments are commonly used to measure intelligence. These assessments typically include tests that evaluate various cognitive abilities such as problem-solving, memory, and spatial recognition, providing an intelligence quotient (IQ) score that indicates how an individual’s mental ability compares to their peers.

However, IQ tests may not comprehensively reflect an individual’s cognitive abilities and may not be a reliable indicator of intelligence, as they may be prejudiced towards certain groups of people, such as those from certain cultural or socioeconomic backgrounds.

Evaluating Wisdom: A Subjective Endeavor

Evaluating wisdom is a more subjective endeavor, as it involves assessing an individual’s practical knowledge, judgment, and emotional intelligence, which may not be easily quantifiable. Various approaches to evaluating wisdom exist, such as performance-based measures, which involve assessing individuals based on their verbal responses to wisdom-requiring problems,

self-assessment, which involves individuals reflecting on their own behaviors and answering questions related to wisdom, and questionnaires and scales, which measure wisdom based on various components and traits.


In conclusion, understanding the distinctions and interplay between intelligence and wisdom is crucial for personal and professional success. By cultivating both qualities through learning, creativity, critical thinking, life experiences, reflection, and empathy, individuals can make well-rounded decisions and navigate the complexities of life with greater insight and understanding. Remember, a balanced mind that embraces both intelligence and wisdom is the key to unlocking your full potential and achieving a more fulfilling life.

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