In their brilliant book ‘Made to Stick’, the Heath brothers describe a fascinating phenomenon called the curse of knowledge.
I’ve noticed over the years that many, many techies suffer from it.
So the big question is:
Do you suffer from the curse of knowledge?
What Is the Curse of Knowledge?
Before you can self-diagnose, let me explain what the curse of knowledge actually is. It means that you are so knowledgeable about a topic that you have forgotten what it’s like not to know.
Let me give you an example:
You get a call from a guy in your church who has just bought his first Mac and has a question. Your response:
“Well, you just open the Finder from your Dock and then go to System Preferences.”
That’s three words a new Mac user won’t know and he’ll have no idea what you’re talking about.
Explaining what is familiar to you to someone who isn’t knowledgeable about it at all is hard. It requires you to remember and imagine what it’s like not to know and not to understand.
Why It Matters
Now why is this important you may ask? Aside from frustration and even irritation it causes in people you try to explain stuff to, there’s another dimension to this issue. The curse of knowledge also makes you not explain things that need explaining. Let me explain (see what I did there?).
The curse of knowledge leads to implicit assuming. Because it is so logical to you, you assume that others know it, see it, and agree with it as well. And this ‘it’ can be anything from not installing software on the church’s computer without authorization (true story!), not buying new equipment without testing its compatibility with what’s already there (true story!) and not bending/storing the audio cables such that they actually break (true story!).
Here’s how to be aware of your blind spots when it comes to this curse of knowledge:
- Keep remembering what it was like not to know. Whenever you have to explain something, or ask for funding for something, ask yourself what knowledge others have and what you need to explain.
- Share our learning curve and mistakes we made along the way. The ‘Wordpress Mistakes’ series is a great example, it showcases mistakes WordPress users made when they started out that seem so silly now, too silly to even share. But new users haven’t got this experience yet, so we should make our knowledge explicit and share our learning experiences!
- Set up clear rules, even about things that seem too self-evident to bother. Remember how help desk people always ask if your computer is connected to a power source and if you’ve tried rebooting already? It’s because people actually forget this.
Not everybody knows what you know and you’d better know it.
What do you think: Do you suffer from the curse of knowledge and if so, in what area(s)?