Knowledge can be categorized into soft knowledge and hard knowledge.

Soft knowledge is what you get by reading the newspaper, popular science books, self-help books, watching a documentary on TV or traveling. It is easily digestible.

Hard knowledge on the other hand is obtained by reading textbooks and solving the problems presented there, by studying lecture notes, scientific articles or iterating through vocabulary cards. Studying hard knowledge is hard, tedious and often outright painful.

To move forward science and technology, hard knowledge is needed. Hard knowledge is also a powerful tool to build a product that is novel and can’t easily be copied. Having hard knowledge in the relevant domain implies that you understand something that most other people don’t understand. A form of intellectual property.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with soft knowledge. In fact, it is important to have soft knowledge, the more the better. Traveling, reading good books on a variety of topics and being somewhat informed about what’s going on - that’s all necessary for understanding the world.

But with there are two dangers with soft knowledge.

The first is that it is easy to mistake opinion as soft knowledge. Those self-help books that swamp the bookstores are full of opinionated advice, often contradicting each other. Real news are hard to distinguish from marketing, opinion pieces and lies. When you think that you are obtaining knowledge, you might just be consuming noise.

The second problem is that obtaining soft knowledge gives a false sense of accomplishment. In fact, most adults are obtaining new soft knowledge every day but have not studied a hard topic since they left school. They forget that there is a mountain of hard knowledge out there. A mountain of opportunities they don’t consider.

Learning hard knowledge is painful. If it doesn’t hurt, it’s not hard knowledge. That doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Running hurts too, yet people get addicted to it.

If hard knowledge is like training for a marathon, then soft knowledge is like hiking. You can live a healthy life by casual hiking. It’s pleasant. You’re tired in the evening. But you are not going to be paid like an athlete. And if you want to win a marathon, you need to go running.