Newly Corporate

Work, life and the pursuit of happiness for the young professional.

The Curse of Knowledge

Dictionary definition of knowledgeHere’s a good phrase to know: The Curse of Knowledge. Ever since Made To Stick was published, I’ve been hearing this more and more. Knowledge is a curse because the more you know, the harder it is to talk to someone who doesn’t know the same things. Basically, someone afflicted with the curse of knowledge is someone who is unable to clearly communicate the topic on which they are an expert. They are so entrenched in their area of expertise that they can’t possibly imagine someone who doesn’t also know those things. The sender of the communication speaks at one level, and the receiver just isn’t ready for it. Victims of the curse tend to use long sentences full of jargon. The results can be dissastrous. Imagine giving your elevator speech to the CEO and having that CEO reply with a blank stare because you just went way over his head with details.

To rid yourself of the curse, you have to re-familiarize yourself with the thought patterns of those non-experts. Dig deep into your memory and try to remember what it was like to not be an expert. Get comfortable in that mind-state and structure your future communications around the idea that everyone else is in that mind-state. This doesn’t mean you have to dumb-down your communications; just start at that baseline level and scale up as the audience dictates. You have to be able to slide along the scale all the way from super-detailed to executive-level overview. And you have to know when each is appropriate.

Here’s an illustration that the authors of Made To Stick give…

JFK dodged the Curse [with “put a man on the moon in a decade”]. If he’d been a modern-day politician or CEO, he’d probably have said, “Our mission is to become the international leader in the space industry, using our capacity for technological innovation to build a bridge towards humanity’s future.” That might have set a moon walk back fifteen years.

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2 Comments

  1. Good post about the curse of knowledge. I re-learn this everytime I help a new person with a blog I encounter all the things I have made automatic and I need to go back to square one.

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