From Jim:

For the former, not really. For the latter, absolutely.

There is a profound difference between knowledge and insight. Knowledge is data that already exists so knowledge is an arrow pointing to the past. Insight opens the way to the future.

Someone had to discover, comprehend, formulate, and articulate the data point in such a way to be understood by many people. This is not to say that what has been converted to knowledge will necessarily be easily understood. When Einstein published his papers in 1905 very few were able to grasp what he was talking about. Why? Because he brought to the world a view that had not been seen before. That in itself makes understanding difficult if not impossible. And for those who are unable to take it in they tend to reject it out of hand.

An insight delivers to the person and then to the world a point of view that had not been witnessed before. In a moment of true discovery the insight brings into a coherent unity the available but as yet disparate information. A sighting has occurred that advances what had previously been a collection of pieces---data points---by understanding the relationships that connect them. The relationships are transcended into the overarching unifying relationship that yields the “Aha” and makes self-evident a coherent and newly-graspable picture.

I use the word “witnessed” because the unified picture is always already present. It isn’t invented. Nor is it discovered. It is seen---sighted---through an Insight or a grasping of its interiority---the simple yet transcendent relationship creating the new whole.

What about change?

Knowledge is additive, cumulative, and incremental. This means it’s quantitative. No significant change can happen this way because every moment in the accumulation is merely adding to your already stored mass of knowledge. Are you different as the moments proceed? Yes but the difference is trivial. It’s like adding years to your life. There is wear and tear but you are essentially the same.

But through an insight you become a different person---not trivially but deeply. You are no longer the person after the insight than you were before.

Here’s an example from my life. This Aha occurred when I was an actor playing the character of Berowne in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost. Briefly, the King and three of his Lords decide to abandon the world and devote themselves to study, fasting, and avoiding contact with women. Berowne disagrees but goes along being the foil in the play. Just as they commit to one another the Princess of France and her retinue of three women arrive and the play complicates from there. It’s a story about love and love’s power. Finally when all is discovered and the men come to their senses Berowne delivers a soliloquy in praise of love and women. During one of the performances I was taken over by Shakespeare’s depth and beauty and when I delivered this line:

And when Love speaks, the voice of all the gods

Make heaven drowsy with the harmony.

I fell silent in awe for what I was told afterwards was about ten seconds. What reach. What depth. What penetration. What understanding. And what an ability to transfer what he (Shakespeare) saw into words. I knew I would never be the same again and that my relationship with love and women had been changed forever. I’d been transformed.

I hold a PhD in Philosophy and Psychology and while earning my degree I gained much knowledge. And I would never depreciate the knowledge I gained. And yes I had several Aha’s during the process. But as I reflect on that moment playing Berowne the difference is dimensional. With respect to love and women who I became was different than who I had been before.


Gaining knowledge is, for the most part, a linear experience whereas insight is emergent. Knowledge can be looked at as adding the sum of the parts. Insight goes beyond the sum of its parts to something that had not existed before.

Using fMRI scans researchers have found that sudden insights emerge via a process involving intense and complex brain states AND this process demands more neural resources than linear methodical thinking does. It’s a different set of brain wave patterns.

What is really momentous is that daydreaming is more demanding so much so that with regard to brain activity there is more when daydreaming---much more than when reasoning to solve a complex problem.

With regard to brain activity perhaps because of this “more” the transformative experience of an Aha is possible.


Here’s a comparison between the two. This comparison is by no means exhaustive. My intention is to simply articulate the differences as I see them. What would you like to add?

Insight --- Knowledge

Future/Transformative --- Past/additive

Emergent --- Accumulative

Instantaneous --- Incremental

Visionary --- Skill-Based

Core --- Topical

Be One With --- Arm's Length

Why --- How

Establish New Boundaries --- Confined Within Boundaries

Deep Knowing --- Cliff Notes

Evolutionary --- Existing Conditions

Original --- Repetitive

Knowledge is critically important and more so as the world continues to become technologically advanced. But what is at the source of the advancement---insight into the deep relationships and patterns that surround us. What good fortune to be able, if only in small instances, to be able to witness them.

I would love to hear about your Aha moments and how they changed you.

Author's Bio: 

Judith Sherven, PhD and her husband Jim Sniechowski, PhD have developed a penetrating perspective on people’s resistance to success, which they call The Fear of Being Fabuloustm. Recognizing the power of unconscious programming to always outweigh conscious desires, they assert that no one is ever failing—they are always succeeding. The question is, at what? To learn about how this played out in the life of Whitney Houston, check out

Currently working as consultants on retainer to LinkedIn providing executive coaching, leadership training and consulting as well as working with private clients around the world, they continually prove that when unconscious beliefs are brought to the surface, the barriers to greater success and leadership presence begin to fade away. They call it Overcoming the Fear of Being Fabulous