There’s a bug going around.
For decades, this debilitating virus has spread amongst top-level executives. It embeds itself in the brain and starts tampering with the memory immediately.
Without warning, execs lose their ability to remember a time not too long ago when they were fresh and unseasoned. They forget what it was like to look at a company financial earnings statement and see jargon and gibberish. And the ability to draw upon examples from their “rookie” years quickly diminishes.
This piercing virus then quickly makes its way throughout the body before nesting in its number 1 target: the mouth. These execs traipse around babbling out corporate speak that no one else understands but those who share their same plight. When new hires or young professionals seek out their advice, these infected execs spew out advice that is both difficult to understand and assumes the company newbies are just as experienced and knowledgable as they are.
It’s called the “Curse of Knowledge” and unfortunately, no one is safe from its trap.
The Heath Brothers, Chip and Dan Heath, coined this “Curse of Knowledge” villain in their 2007 book “Made to Stick: Why Some ideas Survive and Others Die…”
The Heaths describe the Curse as this: “Once we 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.”
We’ve all experienced this in one way or another. And we’ve all been on both ends. Whether we’re the poker expert trying to teach a newbie how to play or whether we’re the student trying to learn, being on either end is frustrating. But it is the one who holds the knowledge that must be careful.
“It’s easy to lose awareness that we’re talking like an expert,” the Heath brothers write.
The authors provide an excellent example in a manufacturing team that comes to its engineering team with a problem: manufacturers can’t fit a part onto a machine. The engineering team’s solution is to reconstruct the drawings and create even more abstract drawings. The engineers thought by elaborating on their drawings, they would make the process more clear for the manufacturers.
The engineers, according to the Heaths, “were suffering from the Curse of Knowledge. They had lost the ability to imagine what it was like to look at a technical drawing from the perspective of a non-expert.”
We’ve seen “The Curse” take its course all too often in companies and organizations we serve. Top execs, managers, supervisors lose their ability to put themselves in the shoes of their subordinates. Communication and coaching take a big hit when these higher ups lose their ability to relate and instruct.
“It’s a hard problem to avoid - a CEO might have thirty years of daily immersion in the logic and conventions of business. Reversing the process is as impossible as un-ringing a bell. You can’t unlearn what you already know,” the Heath brothers write.
True. But you can learn how to communicate what you already know on a level that is understandable to both or all parties. The Heath brothers give several tactics for battling this curse, but we’ll leave you with three:
- Use stories and/or analogies
- Find a universal language. The Heaths are clear that they don’t mean to “dumb down” the message but to keep communication and goals concrete. “Concreteness makes targets transparent,” they write.
- Asking Why. This strategy “helps to remind us of the core values, the core principles, that underlie our ideas.” - Chip and Dan Heath