What are some tips for acquiring the right knowledge for success? originally appeared on Quora: the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.
We appreciate that expertise (knowing a lot about a specialized field) is normally a major component of success. My research showed something more surprising, a correlation between general knowledge and income. This correlation exists even when you factor out formal education level and age (which of course correlate very strongly with income).
In other words, 30-year-olds with two years of graduate school, who score highly on a quiz of general knowledge, tend to make more money than 30-year-olds with the same education, who score poorly on general knowledge. This suggests that knowing facts, and not just having a degree, is a predictor of higher income.
I have found this to be true with surveys of assorted questions (I adapted the questions from an episode of Jeopardy!), and also in more specific areas like sports trivia; finding states and nations on a map; knowing elected representatives.
The questions with the greatest predictive power tend to be relatively easy ones. It helps to be well-rounded, knowing what educated people generally know, without too many major gaps in one's knowledge.
Our media habits do not always encourage this. The profusion of cable channels, news aggregators, and other sources makes it possible to customize news to one's interests. This is usually considered a good thing, and it can be when it helps ensure that you don't miss stories on topics of interest. But the best way to acquire general knowledge is through news sources that are not so readily customized. I've done surveys of general knowledge that also ask people to indicate their sources of news. This lets me see how specific news sources correlate with knowledge. Information sources that tested highly for audience's general knowledge were major newspapers (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times) and NPR. Television news audiences are usually less informed. People who said they got news from Facebook or news aggregators were among those who scored poorest in general knowledge.
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