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The Curse of Knowledge

Hi Guys,

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

Today I am going to discuss the concept of The Curse of Knowledge.

The concept of The Curse of Knowledge is described in a book called Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.

We are all sooner or later struck by the curse of knowledge.

The problem is that once we know something we find it difficult to imagine not knowing it and it is equally difficult to imagine it not being obvious to others. Our knowledge has “cursed” us. We have difficulty sharing our knowledge with others, because we can’t readily re-create their state of mind. We find it difficult to imagine what it was like not knowing.

Whatever your profession you will soon get to the stage where you believe that what you know is very simple for another person to understand. We know what we know, and we know it so well, that we assume that everyone else knows it just as we do. We consider the things we know, to be easy.

Victims of the curse often tend to use long sentences full of jargon .

I can relate to the curse as I was once tasked with writing an instruction manual for a programme that had been created in-house and that we all used practically on a daily basis. It was a nightmare to draft. After all having used the programme for a considerable time you automatically know what to do without thinking about it. Part of the problem with the curse of knowledge is that we assume too much. We make assumptions about what people do and don’t know and the stronger you are afflicted with the curse, the easier it is to assume.

My first draft was abysmal. I assumed that many of the steps you had to carry out were blindingly obvious. But to my chagrin they were not. I can tell you that I had to redraft the user manual quite a few times before it became useful to a newbie.

This was a really good lesson to learn as it taught me that although something may be blindingly obvious to me it certainly is not to someone else.

However, it is so easy to fall back under the influence of the curse of knowledge, but knowing that the curse exist you can do something about it.

Communication isn’t a solo activity; it involves both you and your audience. To get around the curse, you can either start with the basics, or get a feeling from your audience about what they know or find out what their level of knowledge regarding the subject matter by simply asking them to tell you.

What matters most when communicating is getting our point across. However we will not be able to do this if we’re stuck in our head, unable to see things from our audience’s perspective.

We need to spend the effort to phrase ideas in such a way that your audience will understand what you are trying to get across to them. We need to figure out what words will work. You have to speak in a language that those who don’t already know it will understand and find it engaging.

You can never assume that your audience speak your language or have your perspective for that matter. You may have to rephrase some of the terms you use in a way that conveys the intended message to a broad audience. Big words and details are not going impressing them but may have the opposite effect. Your time is better spent accounting for your audience level of understanding and their context. This is not dumbing things down, but rather it’s showing a mastery of the concepts. it’s your job to bring amazing clarity to your articles, blogs posts and products.

The curse can also affect bloggers, article writers, product creators and a whole host of others in a different way. After all, as demonstrated above, it is very difficult to imagine what it was like not knowing about your subject matter, your niche. After all no one wants to write blog posts , articles, courses, eBooks about something that everybody already knows – who’d want to read them? Here the curse prevents us from writing about things that in reality, plenty of people don’t know and would benefit from.

I sincerely hope that the above article will help you to connect better with your audiences and that it will spur you on to write about your chosen niche.

Until the next time,


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