Acknowledge The ‘Curse Of Knowledge’

Very often what we strive to convey and communicate the most can be the hardest to transmit and teach.  The vivid images of a grand vision or innovative ideas or learnings that may be seared upon our own minds…aren’t even casting a shadow on the thoughtscape of those you are trying to reach or persuade.  The beacon of light that shines so clearly in our own mind can be frustratingly Gargantuan in its effort to explain to others.

While we may have an incredible image of what we want to get across to those around us, conveying this image can be the most difficult job of all.  What we see the strongest can the hardest for us to create in the minds of others…but why?

Some would say the great inhibitor to our inability to convey what is in our own heads is the “curse of knowledge.”  A term first coined by Robin Hogarth and later expounded upon by the Heath Brothers in their work…Make it Stick.  According to the Heath Brothers and the dilemma of the “curse of knowledge”;

“Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it.  Our knowledge has cursed us.  And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can’t readily re-create our listeners’ state of mind.”

According to the Heath Brothers…“we suffer from enormous information imbalances.”  These “information imbalances” make it difficult to convey what persists so rich and brilliantly in our own minds.  And yet…“you can’t unlearn what you already know.” 

So in our efforts to teach and lead more effectively, it behooves us to look for a myriad of ways to build mental maps and models for the very ideas that we find most important to convey to our listeners.  Tapping into the unexpected and engaging in stories to paint your picture allows your audience to elicit their own images and create their own path to the learning.  And for us to overcome the “curse of knowledge” that may afflict our communications.

The Heath Brothers add…“there are in fact, only two ways to beat the curse of knowledge reliably.  The first is not to learn anything.  The second is to take your ideas and transform them.”  Choosing to learn nothing is not an option, so we have to be vigilant in our efforts to “transform” our ideas and vision for those we lead.

Transparency does not assist our leadership if we are the only one that has clarity around what we are trying to convey and communicate.

“And how is clarity to be achieved?  Mainly by taking trouble and by writing to serve people rather than to impress them.”  -F.L. Lucas


2 thoughts on “Acknowledge The ‘Curse Of Knowledge’

  1. I love this post. As leaders we are transformed when we gain new learning. We get very excited when that new learning will positively impact our students and often very frustrated when it is not operationalized as quickly as we would like. Our new learnings must form the conversations we have with our staff, students parents and communities to bring them to life.

  2. What I like most about learning is when my knowledge is transformed because of what I have learned. Your quote about writing is a great way to change your knowledge. Thanks for writing this. Good stuff.

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