It’s been widely written, thought and blogged about and you can find opinions galore about the topic going as far back as 2007 when Dan and Chip Heath’s book Made to Stick came out. Go check it out. Google away, I did. I will make it easy for you. Just click here. In fact, don’t bother reading the rest of this post because there is surely a ton of similar, if not better and more scientific, opinion on the subject out there. Actually, why not just read the book. Now, there’s an idea. See ya!
Oh, you’re still here?
Well, ok then, here’s my take on that dastardly curse of knowledge and how it wreaks havoc on our ability to communicate effectively. Watch out! It might be simple and maybe even a little different. Don’t be afraid though, it won’t bite.
The curse of knowledge goes something like this:
You know a lot about something and someone else doesn’t.
You try to explain it to them and they don’t get it. Blank stare.
So you try again and they still don’t get it. Even more confusion.
What’s wrong with this picture?
Are you intelligent enough to articulate your ideas? Hell yeah. Is the recipient intelligent to understand you? Of course. You’re both professionals, you’re educated and you’re both successful business types.
So, what’s up then?
I thought about it a bit and figured when you know something instinctively or have a process in your head that you know so well that it makes it difficult for you to explain it to someone else then you need to break it down into terms that they can understand. That’s essentially it. In terms that someone else can understand. Pretty simple. Now, there are tons of articles on this subject that offer ways to solve this problem. There are lists of actions (try this, try that), examples of words and their counterparts that better define an idea and a lot of fancy language about how the psychological and physiological aspects of human nature play into our ability to communicate the intent of an idea. What? There are even some sites that tease you in with some fancy thoughts and want you to “register” in order to be enlightened because the content is THAT good. Wow!
Well, I’m not going to be able to solve this for you. I’m not even going to try. You’re going to have to do it all by yourself but how about this as an approach?
In terms that someone else can understand.
What does it take to do that? I think you need to be able to understand who you are talking to. For example, if you’re an architect or an interior designer you know a lot about how to put a building together and so do your colleagues. You guys get together and talk about the ins and outs of the design; what works what doesn’t. You know it well and the banter is easy. Literal. It’s no different than the example everyone uses of the lawyer trying to explain tax law to his client. He knows so much about it that he’s handcuffed. Where you run into trouble is when you have to explain your design to your client, don’t you? I can’t see you but you have a surprised look on your face. I know because I did too.
So, what do you do?
I DON’T KNOW.
How about you get to know your client? Who are they? What do they do? What makes them tick? Ask them to explain their role in the business to you. Ask some questions to get some clarity. Understand them. You know they will fake it when you start explaining the design process to them so it’s better to get an understanding of who they are before you launch in. It can only help. Hey, it can’t hurt right? We are never going to be able to solve the curse of knowledge and there isn’t anyone out there that can tell you they have it licked. We can recognize it though and that’s half the battle. We can strive to be better communicators by really trying to understand the people we are talking to. Practicing on our colleagues and friends to see if we can do it will only help us when we have to write responses to RFP’s, write emails (as we all so often do) and when we write these blog posts where our audience may not be so well known to us.
Ok, how about this?
Go and talk to a kindergarten teacher who spends all her time explaining complicated life lessons to young children. They are likely the closest to resolving the curse of knowledge just because of the nature of what they do. Or if you’re like me and don’t know any kindergarten teachers or have any kids try to explain to a friend how to tie his shoes. Yeah, they know how to do it but it would be fun to see if you can actually explain it. In terms he can understand. Know what I’m saying?
How did I do? Do you get it?