Topic: Book Club

Overcoming The Curse Of Knowledge

Posted by Anonymous on 500 Points
If we had the book to write over again, we’d emphasize the Curse of Knowledge more. It’s a huge, pervasive barrier. But how do you overcome it? When people are really cursed by their knowledge they don’t realize their messages are complex and abstract. What hints do you have for helping people to overcome their curse of knowledge?

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  • Posted on Accepted
    This is a subject I discuss all the time though I have never before called it a curse. When people know a lot about a subject, they don't have an open mind to listen and then miss what others are saying. No matter how much someone knows about a subject there can be other options, ideas, viewpoints.

    In addition, when a subject seems easy to understand, the person trying to explain it to someone else uses terms and connections and analogies that mean something to them but may not help others to understand.

    Being aware of how this curse can impede the sharing of knowledge is the first step in overcoming it.
  • Posted by Mark Goren on Accepted
    The Curse of Knowledge is interesting – and I would definitely be interested in reading more about it, Chip.

    For living, breathing examples of how the Curse of Knowledge is so deeply ingrained in our lives, look to your kids. They're walking, talking proof that we are, indeed, "Cursed" with knowledge.

    Our kids actions are so natural, so real, so unaffected. They make split decisions every day that we would take minutes/hours/days to decide on. Our kids aren't complex, they aren't abstract. They're simple, clear and able to act on their thoughts/impulses.

    What hint do I have to help people overcome this curse? Observe your kids.
  • Posted on Accepted
    oooh, I like Mark's idea of observing kids. That naiveté is indeed beautiful and can teach us a thing or two.

    I agree with Bob telling us to dumb-it-down. This is such a challenge for our buzzword bonanza. And I think blogging makes it worse since we're all speaking the same language so we're assuming everyone is (that said, I get so much from blogging/learning that it's worth it).

    You guys will think I'm absolutely nuts for this one (if you don't already) but I tell you, it's amazing how much of a real-time, unbiased focus group exists right outside your door. I have, right on 3 occasions and recently urged a colleague to do the same thing, taken my questions to the streets of Manhattan. I just go to a well-trafficked area and look for my target audience (be it consumer or business) and ask a question (politely and it's a good idea to be armed with Snickers bars) and then I gauge their reactions. It has to be something short--like a couple ideas for a tagline or program name. Or asking them a sentence and saying "what did that mean to you?" or "what stands out to you from that sentence?".

    Within 10 respondents I know if I should proceed or tank the idea. As for my colleague she had two ideas for a logo but I was concerned that one was too hard to read and she was just in love with it (to be fair, the design was quite pretty, if illegible). I told her to go outside and get 15 "business-attired people" to look at it and read it back to her. Only half could. So she had her answer but, equally important, she had the confidence of 'real' feedback from those who had no knowledge their answers were not jaded nor biased.

    note: do NOT do this exercise during rush hour...a lot of people would think that by "well-trafficked areas" I mean subway stops. I don't (people will yell at you when they're on the go). But you can do the exercise while traveling inside a subway car, do bring candy and make it a QUICK (!) question. The whole interaction needs to take no longer than a minute.
  • Posted by Steve Woodruff on Accepted
    I think one of the most subtle dangers of the Curse of Knowledge is context - we know so much of what SURROUNDS what we say, and we assume it - the listener may not have a clue. So we not only need to be careful about using simple and straightforward words, we also have to paint a backdrop behind what we say so that people grasp the point, AND how/where it fits.
    For instance: a landscape designer presents a proposed plan to a homeowner. "You need to have a dogwood here, and this corner should have holly bushes - and we need to move these day lillies over to this side." He's communicated clearly - but if he explains how this plant prefers shade, and this one thrives in acidic soil, and this one is deer-resistant - now he will have given enough context based on his embedded knowledge to gain the client's agreement.
  • Posted on Accepted
    Hello Chip:

    Nice to meet you. I think our first obstacle is in terminology. We assume that because we call it knowledge, we have assimilated it, we "know" it. To me something is as good as its implementation. So *context* is everything.

    One of the reasons why case studies are not as helpful as we would like them to be is context. It changes. I also consider the word and pastime of benchmarking a curse. Just because someone else is doing something, it doesn't mean that it's the right thing for us to do.

    Will today's conditions, actors, and story be the same? I think we can almost say for sure that they will not. To borrow from the Greeks, everything flows -- we can never bathe in the same river twice.

    Socrates stated that he knew what he did not know. It takes a little bit of living to figure this one out. We spend half our lives learning so we can know and the rest, hopefully, unlearning so we can truly experience.

    Every industry and environment, even this book club, tends to gravitate towards the comforts of a common language and way of thinking. We do it even with blogs, when we say we develop a 'voice'.

    As Mark observed, children tend to be free to be and do in the moment.

    One of the benefits of an education in liberal arts is that the aim was not to teach notions for the sake of knowing. The purpose of reading poetry, literature and philosophy, was to learn to feel with one's heart and think critically.

    My recommendation is: remember to breathe in and out, and take the extra step of imagining what it would feel like to explain something for the first time.

    Thoughts anyone?
  • Posted by Mark Goren on Accepted
    "Imagine what it would feel like to explain something for the first time." I love that idea, Valeria.

    And it is funny how this goes back to dealing with kids too. My wife is constantly reminding me to simplify the way I talk to our kids. And I've come a long way in this regard now that I've been a father for three years +. Now, with your advice too, I see myself doing even better.

    Observe your kids. Remember what it would feel like to explain something for the first time!

    It's the perfect remedy to the Curse of Knowledge.
  • Posted on Accepted
    It's funny... I was building a presentation based on the ideas of the book... about information architecture and experience planning - which are always presented abstractly. Thus, it's difficult to get clients to understand what they're looking at (and what they're not).

    I simplified the message, used unexpected, concrete, sensory metaphors, and conceptualized a story to build it around. As I started building the slides in my company's "standard format," though, I saw my point becoming more and more abstract.

    Then I started to understand why the authors called PowerPoint the "Kryptonite of Sticky Ideas." It really does encourage you to present high-level abstractions and garnish it with a story.

    So I got rid of 90% of the words and just relied on the story, which incorporates the other elements as I want it to. I haven't had to present it yet, but I'll make a post on it when I do.
  • Posted on Accepted
    Hey Chip & Everyone!

    I really like the idea of considering yourself to be explaining it to a kid!

    As I see it, the Curse of Knowledge is really two things. The first is the curse, the second is the knowledge. The knowledge is something we appreciate, we reference, use, etc. Just because we have knowledge doesn't mean we create barriers with those that don't. The curse is really what creates the barriers. The curse is our (or at least my) desire to ensure we sound like we know what we're talking about, to be seen as knowledgeable, to speak the geek speak of our industry (as each industry does have it), and so forth.

    Considering this, by focusing on reducing the curse, I think we can simplify the message. Generally the main way I test my ideas are through my girlfriend. She has no formal business training and is a writer. She also happens to enjoy reading my blog (and making sure I have no mistakes x_x). But I know that I have explained an idea on my blog in such a way as to have it stick when she comes to me and makes a comment on that post.

    Another method I use is to write whatever it is I want to write the way I want to write it once. Then I look back over that and look for every industry geek sounding word and replace it (and it's usually possible to replace each one) with something that's not a 'term' necessarily. Much like how as a surfer you could say you perled, or you could say you took a nose dive. In economics you may be explaining contrived scarcity, but you could just as easily say you produce a set amount of units to artificially raise the price of the product. To me, those are ways to reduce the curse while utilizing the knowledge.

    Those are some methods I use :)
  • Posted on Accepted
    Chip, I try as much as possible to put myself in the other person's shoes. So if I'm trying to sell them an idea, I try to think why would they be interested, how much attention might they give me, and what might they already know about the subject so I don't either insult them or talk over their head.

    I don't always succeed, but that's what I try to do. That usually involves keepoing it as simple as possible. If there's interest and they want more detail, they'll usually ask for it.
  • Posted on Accepted
    I am only 1/3 of the way through the book (ooops) and not a marketer.

    I found this idea of the curse of knowledge interesting - I recognise it as the point when I talk to brides about flowers (I grow cut flowers) and they can't visualise them and begin to panic.

    I am trying to take myself back to when I didn't know what flowers looked like or when they bloomed, trying to become less frightening and thereby more able to be listened to.

    I am planning on trying to explain things to a host of children to see if they can teach me how to keep it simple

  • Posted on Accepted
    Here's a point of view from the investment advisory world.

    I work for a small firm, who's principals LOVE speaking in terms of r-squareds, correlation coefficients and standard deviations - and they do this w/ prospective clients who are not investment professionals themselves!!! You can just picture clients' eyes glazing over, can't you?

    For some people, espeically vy technically smart ones who've spent a great deal of time (PhD's) learning their craft, the Curse of Knowledge is a very real, and perhaps insurmoutable obstacle.

    I continue to tell my colleagues to tone down the technical jargon, provide examples clients will understand, not ones that show how smart you are. Clearly, this is a long term project for me.

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