Monday, February 20, 2012

Beware the curse of knowledge

I am sure you have played that game with friends, where you think of tune and tap it out for someone to guess. What seems obvious to you, seems to be very difficult for the other person to guess. Even though the tune plays  out in your head, they just can't hear it and guess more wrong than right answers. Well this is concept that shows up in business and with experts and companies expressing ideas often, and no matter how hard they try you just can't hear the tune. Why might this be?

Well Dan and Chip Heath, came up with a phrase to describe this gap between what you know and what others know as the "curse of knowledge". The idea is that the more you know and are deep inside a domain of knowledge, the harder it can be to express it to others. Nuances that make things obvious to you are lost in translation as you explain them to others. It is like a song that plays in your head that you can hear, but you are trying to get over to others, that cannot hear that tune.

So how might you tackle the curse of knowledge, well speaking clearly and simply about a topic helps, don't use insider words and phrases. Avoid speaking about something in a way that requires you to have lived through the experience. Taking on a beginners mindset, and thinking about what people don't know. Telling real world stories and fixing concepts in the physical world helps for some abstract topics. If you know your audience then you should have a good idea of their level of domain knowledge already and if you do not know them, then always aim at the lowest denominator and work from there. Assume that the tune you are tapping out is only in your head and how can you better help the audience pick up on the song.

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