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The Curse of Knowledge – 5 Ways we always go wrong!

Published on 12 December 2017

The Curse of Knowledge – 5 Ways we always go wrong!

There is a theory in teaching that when it comes to sharing an idea too much knowledge is a curse. 

An example I saw recently is that local people can’t give directions.
There are a number of reasons for this.

  1. We have known the area for so long that we struggle to put ourselves in the position of somebody that doesn’t. The same goes for teaching could you explain how you know 2+2=4 or how you read and write. The longer you spend looking at something the harder it is to explain how you do something. 
  2. We use frames of reference that are meaningless to an outsider.  “Turn left where the red lion pub used to be then take a right when you get to Dave’s mum’s house”.  The same goes for us we baffle our audiences with meaningless acronyms and refer to terms such as statistical significance that took us ages to get our heads round.  Yet we still expect our audience to follow what we are saying.
  3. We use complicated shortcuts.  When we know an area we learn the quickest route, cutting down back streets and cut throughs and avoiding traffic.  These save time because we know exactly where we are and where we are going. But for an outsider they are most likely to get lost.  For them the quickest route is the easiest route. The same goes for us, we learn lots of shortcuts in our work, and get quicker at what we do.  When we try and teach others we throw all of these in at the start, leaving our audience lost.
  4. We add additional information that is not necessary. “After 50 yards you will pass a newsagent on the left, then in another 50 yards you will pass a bus stop on your right, when you get to the zebra crossing carry straight on for another 100 yards until you get to the traffic lights where you turn left.” They will never remember all of that the only bit they needed to remember was “turn left at the traffic lights” but this may be lost in the noise. As analysts we are exactly the same, we have worked so hard on this that we want to share every little detail but all we are doing is clouding our core message.
  5. We start to doubt ourselves. “Hang on they were digging up that road yesterday, I wonder if they have finished”.  When we are analysing we have to review many risks and overcome many barriers before we get to the right answer, but when we talk about this it is easy to project a lack of confidence.  If we don’t come across as confident then our audience won’t be.  It is much easier to be confident when you don’t know the risks.

When we think about this we realise that we are at a big disadvantage when it comes to sharing what we know, we have the Curse of Knowledge but we are competing against people with the blessing of ignorance.  If we want to get our message across then we need to work much harder.

Author: Ian Robertson

Date: 12/12/2017


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