What Is the Difference Between Intelligence and Wisdom?

There’s a massive difference between being intelligent and being wise. One can deeply intelligent, but not very wise.

So, what’s the difference between intelligence and wisdom?

Let’s find out:

Vindy Teja, B.A., LL.B.

Vindy Teja

Professional Life & Divorce Coach | TEDx Speaker | Author, YOLO: Essential Life Hacks for Happiness

  • Intelligence is typically associated with innate and unchanging ability or IQ.
  • Wisdom, on the other hand, refers to the qualities of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment.

The focus here is on wisdom. Wisdom can give you an edge or the ability to handle information appropriately. It helps you directly affect outcomes. Practicing it showcases your best self.

You build relationships where you’re not only safe to be yourself, you allow and encourage others to do the same. Think of wisdom as the proverbial magic wand that boosts the quality of your life.

What does wisdom include? It includes the willingness to embrace and learn from differences, which many of the world’s most respected leaders and peacemakers like Nelson Mandela, Mohandas Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and Martin Luther King, Jr. are revered for. They all possessed a keen understanding of the universal human condition, dedication, and problem-solving abilities.

Wisdom also includes the power of compassion and understanding. When you show these to others, they’re less likely to feel threatened by you, more likely to open up and be honest with you, and more willing to share their ideas with you. Co-operative solutions come from this safe place.

Discretion refers to the freedom to decide what to say or do in a given situation. Wisdom gives you the ability to handle information appropriately. Using your wisdom while exercising your discretion allows you to do many things including:

  • Figure out what’s necessary or best to share
  • Speak up now or later
  • Back down permanently, until a later time, or until circumstances change
  • Stay silent
  • Take a certain course of action

Acquiring wisdom is not simple or automatic. It’s a life-long process which includes making your own mistakes and learning from them as well as seeking wisdom from those you respect.

Charlene Walters, MBA, PhD

Charlene Walters headshot

Writer | Speaker | Business & Branding Mentor, Own Your Other

Wisdom means having knowledge and pulling one’s judgment and experience too

Intelligence involves how you gain knowledge and skills, and your ability to interact with the world around you, but wisdom is about more than just having knowledge – it pulls in one’s judgment and experience too.

Wisdom is knowing that data is important, but that it is not the only thing that should be used to inform your decisions. It’s realizing that people, relationships, and giving back matter and should always be considered in all of your decisions and interactions too.

Wisdom is about pulling in from the totality of areas that you have at your disposal – your networks, expertise, skills, experience, and emotional intelligence while strict intelligence is more limited and fixed.

Related: Emotional Intelligence: What is it & How to Improve Yours?

What’s more, wisdom involves learning from the things we’ve failed at in addition to those we’ve been successful at and having the confidence to realize that failing is central to our growth and should always be seen that way and embraced.

Wisdom is learning through trial and error, seeing the value in everything and everyone and embracing feedback from others including people and perspectives that are different from our own.

Intelligence can take on many connotations, such as having knowledge of facts

These can also refer to interpersonal skills, interpersonal skills, musical talents, emotional EQ, creative and analytical abilities, and myriad other talents.

What is kind of a miracle for each and every one of us, is that we all have some form of intelligence that we are strong in, and can build upon.

Wisdom gives us the ability to decipher the differences in good judgment or making a decision that is prudent in certain situations we are presented with.

You can be very smart and possess a high IQ, but not all who are intelligent are fully equipped through life’s ever-present challenges, to make good decisions. Somehow, more experience makes us seasoned to handle challenges.

People with wisdom and intelligence are those we are often attracted to, and seek out for advice. Wisdom also means we know what contentment is, what pain can be, and how past mistakes can formulate better decision making in the future.

Related: What Is the Difference Between Knowledge and Wisdom?

Gray Robinson

James Gray Robinson

Attorney, Lawyer’s Lifeline | Relationship Expert | Author | Speaker

Intelligence and wisdom are two sides of a similar coin, namely our mental ability to succeed and live in the world.

Intelligence is an individual’s capacity to store and utilize information while wisdom is more practical knowledge gained through experience.

One way to illustrate the difference is by comparing a Volkswagen Beetle to a Ferrari. Intelligence will tell us the function and specifications of each. Wisdom will tell us which one to use.

Intelligence can be described as innate while wisdom can be described as common sense.

This is why geniuses can have such a difficult time living in the real world. They can tell you how to find the square root of Pi, but they may not be able to iron a shirt.

A famous example of wisdom versus intelligence comes from the Old Testament and the story of Solomon. As the story goes, Solomon was a pious man who loved his God above all others.

To reward Solomon, his God granted him anything he wanted, and Solomon chose wisdom. Thus, he was just and wise as a king, knowing the common sense of things. It goes without saying that he was already intelligent and wise by knowing to ask for wisdom, but it makes a good story.

Lisa DeAngelis

Lisa DeAngelis

Founder, Dragonfly Coaching, LLC

Knowledge is the acquisition of information, while wisdom is knowing and having the experience as to how to use that information.

In and of itself, I don’t believe that wisdom has a moral obligation to it. Though when I work with my clients, I do frame wisdom in the context of values and the greater good.

As an example, a leader I am working with has come to the realization that she has to reduce costs if she is to keep her business alive through this economic crisis. She knows (knowledge) that the organization doesn’t have the funding to weather the storm indefinitely.

Because of her values, she has chosen to systematically address every cost, including her own salary, before she would even consider reduced hours, furloughs, or lay-offs for her employees.

Her reasoning for this decision is that she believes (wisdom) that the differentiator that will enable the company to rebound once the economy turns is the staff.

Her ability to communicate to the organization not only what the decisions are that she is making (knowledge), but why she is making these decisions (wisdom), enables the employees to understand her logic (their knowledge) and to consider how they can best support this direction (their wisdom).

Chris Norris

Chris Norris

Certified Sleep Science Coach | Founder and Managing Editor, Sleep Standards

Intelligence and wisdom are two characteristics of the mind that inevitably cross paths. It’s unlikely for an intelligent individual to live their entire life without gaining some kind of wisdom. This is especially true because wisdom is an undeniably subjective character trait.

Wisdom is intelligence that’s colored by understanding

In the end, what makes for wisdom is intelligence informed by empathy, intelligence that grasps with sympathy the complexity of others and the world, and this has implications.

When intelligence is not informed by empathy, what it produces will generally not contribute to the common good. Without concomitant empathy, intelligence invariably becomes arrogant and condescending.

True learning, on another hand, is humble, self-effacing, and empathic. When we develop ourselves intellectually, without sufficient empathy, our talents invariably become causes for envy rather than gifts for the community.

Related: Compassion vs Empathy vs Sympathy. What is the Difference?

In understanding which is more important: wisdom or intelligence, it’s beneficial to learn what helps you better deal with novel situations, relate to people better, and influence your overall success in life.

Intelligence is your brain’s ability to apply knowledge

Some people have an enormous amount of knowledge, but what they lack is the wisdom needed to cope with ordinary daily tasks. We might call this: intelligence without wisdom.

On the other hand, there are those who are highly efficient in solving complicated issues but haven’t got any factual knowledge to accompany their ideas. These would be high wisdom: low intelligence individuals.

Wisdom is a virtue. Intelligence is the ability to acquire information and to use it. Both are essential. Both are useful. Their outcomes, however, are different.

Without intelligence, we would not be able to advance knowledge.

If a person desires the type of progress that emerges out of a knowledge-based society, then intelligence would be seen to be more useful.

Without wisdom, we would not be able to use that knowledge to make decisions that promote the welfare of others.

If we esteem the type of social progress that emerges out of the practice of virtue, then wisdom would be seen to be more useful.

Natalie Mica

Natalie Mica

Licensed Professional Counselor | Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator

Intelligence is the accumulation of head knowledge. Wisdom is knowledge gained from the experiences of living what the head can only study, and it involves having the ability to understand and make good judgments based on experience.

One can be very intelligent and not be wise, prepared, or able to use the intellect to make good judgments. Many intellectuals and public figures have immense head knowledge and yet do not understand enough to make good judgments for themselves or others.

Intelligence is more the ability to know theory and wisdom is the ability to know and put the theory into action or to live the theory out in positive ways.

Mike Carpenter

Mike Carpenter

Founder, Carpenter Associates

Intelligence and wisdom are certainly related, and their definitions appear to overlap somewhat. My sense though is that wisdom is more than just intelligence or knowledge for knowledge’s sake.

In fact, Intelligence and knowledge can be outdated, inaccurate, incomplete, misunderstood, often misinterpreted, and is often subject to personal interpretation.

Intelligence and/or knowledge in most fields is always changing, and never static because it can and does become obsolete, it frequently needs to be updated.

Wisdom is applied knowledge and includes a deeper understanding of the world

On the other hand, wisdom is generally more stable because of its fundamental nature, broader potential applications, and its tendency to simplify things.

Wisdom is much more about applied knowledge, or actionable knowledge and inherently includes a deep understanding and appreciation for how the world actually works, not how it’s supposed to work.

Wisdom is not just what theoretical intelligence or knowledge tells us. It’s based on what actually happens on an ongoing basis all over the world.

Christine Perkett

Christine Perkett

CEO, Mindfull Marketing + PR

Intelligence is based on how someone performs on standardized tests and work

Intelligence can be based on one’s ability to memorize and recall facts and regurgitate them when asked a question. It has nothing to do with awareness or emotion. On the other hand, wisdom is more about emotional intelligence.

Wisdom focuses on emotions such as empathy, self-awareness, and resilience

We gain wisdom by living through hardship and paying attention to the lessons each situation has to share with us. Someone who is not wise will not heed these lessons. Someone can be highly intelligent but have no wisdom.

Dr. Froswa’ Booker-Drew

Dr. Froswa' Booker-Drew

Author | TEDx Speaker | Trainer | Consultant

There is a difference between wisdom and intelligence. Although many believe wisdom comes as a result of age, that isn’t necessarily true.

Wisdom is a result of insight gained from lived experience

If you learn from those experiences and they have impacted your thinking, behavior, and actions, that can be a source of wisdom.

Intelligence is something that you learn from education or work

You can have information and not experience what you are aware of. For instance, there are individuals who teach in business schools but may not have ever owned a business. They can teach others about processes and theories that they’ve studied even though they have not implemented what they are teaching–they have knowledge about it.

I often was amazed at my grandmother who was not a highly educated woman by the world’s standards but she had so much lived experience that I benefited from.

She taught me so much about life and living even though her formal education did not go beyond middle school. One is not better than the other but they are both valuable.

I make sure that I surround myself with others who can speak into my life because of their wisdom and intelligence. There is no way that you’ll have access to knowing or doing everything but you can benefit from the experiences and knowledge of others.

Kellee Marlow

Kellee Marlow

Founder | Empowerment-in-Chief | Strategist

Intelligence and wisdom do not always go hand in hand. I see intelligence as a general term that can be applied to anyone that has the capacity to acquire and apply knowledge. We’re all intelligent in one way or another.

Wisdom, however, requires intelligence along with experience, compassion, and the ability to delve into the many layers of life.

It is a knowing that comes from our inner capacity to differentiate the intrinsic truth, in response to knowledge gained. To be wise, a person needs to be open-minded and accepting of all perspectives and possibilities.

Paige Arnof-Fenn

Paige Arnof-Fenn

Founder & CEO, Mavens & Moguls

Intelligence can be learned through experience but it is not a necessary part of wisdom

Young and old people acquire intelligence through school, work, and life experience but they do not always show good judgment but some are in fact quite wise.

Wisdom comes from knowledge and is about having good judgment

It does not necessarily come with age. Some of the wisest people I know are not formally educated but they have great common sense and understand human nature in a deep way that shows they truly know how others think and feel.

Wise people are more emotionally intelligent than book smart in my experience.

Nicole Arzt, MS

Nicole Arzt

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist |Mental Health Expert, Invigor Medical

Intelligence is fairly cognitive. When you’re intelligent, you can make decisions, solve problems, and come up with creative ideas. But wise people integrate both cognitive and emotional strength. Intelligent people often know they’re intelligent. They know they know something!

Wise people have more skepticism in both themselves and others, although this skepticism isn’t negative. It’s more of an acceptance that it’s truly impossible to know anything, that there are always possibilities for different answers or theories. Intelligent people often focus on acting. Wise people often focus on thinking.

Samantha Moss

Samantha Moss

Editor & Content Ambassador, Romantific

Intelligence and wisdom are two things that a lot of people get confused with. I, for one, have been using these two terms interchangeably for the longest time. Because of these two closely related terms, it is best to know the difference between them.

Intelligence has three types as analyzed by a Psychologist, Dr. Robert J Sternberg’s Triarthic Theory of Intelligence:

  • Practical intelligence. This is commonly used in one’s daily life. This can be measured by how a person knows how to do something rather than just the knowledge of what that something is.
  • Creative intelligence. This is measured in how a person adjusts to a certain situation effectively.
  • Analytical intelligence. This is applied when a person analyzes something before acting on it. Analytical intelligence can be measured by IQ tests.

While wisdom, on the other hand, is something that you acquire or develop as time goes by. Some people often use their wisdom when making decisions that they apply their experience and knowledge of the situation.

Winston Perez

Winston Perez

Author | Founder, Concept Modeling

Intelligence is understanding the “how”

Intelligence is digging past the superficial and getting to know the truth concerning a subject, principle, or object — how it functions or works.

Wisdom is understanding the “why”

Wisdom is knowing how to apply the truth, when to discard it or even reverse it, because you understand the deeper why — the deeper concept or essence.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can someone be intelligent but not wise?

Yes, it is possible for someone to be intelligent but not wise. Intelligence refers to a person’s ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills, whereas wisdom involves sound judgment, insight, and practical experience.

An intelligent person may have a high IQ, be academically accomplished, and possess a vast store of information, but they may lack the ability to use their knowledge effectively in real-world situations. They may struggle to make good decisions, misread social cues, or lack emotional intelligence.

Wisdom, on the other hand, comes from a combination of knowledge and experience. It involves being able to apply what one has learned to make sound judgments, assess risks, and navigate complex social situations.

In some cases, a person may be highly intelligent but lack wisdom because they have not had the opportunity to gain practical experience or develop emotional intelligence. In other cases, a person may be wise but not highly intelligent, relying instead on their intuition and practical experience.

What are the traits of an intelligent person?

Intelligent people are characterized by a variety of traits that set them apart from the crowd. Here are some of the key qualities that tend to be associated with high intelligence:

Curiosity: Intelligent people are naturally curious about the world around them. They ask questions, seek out new experiences, and have a thirst for knowledge that drives them to explore new ideas and concepts.

Open-mindedness: Intelligent people are often open-minded and receptive to new ideas and perspectives. They are willing to consider different points of view and are not afraid to challenge their own assumptions and beliefs.

Critical thinking: Intelligent people are skilled at analyzing information and evaluating arguments. They are able to identify flaws in reasoning and are not easily swayed by emotional appeals or illogical arguments.

Creativity: Intelligent people often have a talent for creative thinking and problem-solving. They are able to generate new ideas and approaches to challenges and are not afraid to take risks in pursuit of innovation.

Emotional intelligence: Intelligent people tend to be emotionally intelligent, meaning they are aware of their own emotions and able to regulate them effectively. They are also skilled at reading other people’s emotions and responding appropriately.

Perseverance: Intelligent people are often highly motivated and persistent in pursuit of their goals. They are willing to work hard, overcome obstacles, and push themselves to achieve their full potential.

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