What If Everybody is Cursed By Knowledge?

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Highlighting the Curse of Knowledge

Anytime you’re presenting something – say, the ins and outs of cloud computing – and are so entrenched in that world you forget it’s possible for someone to not know all about it, you’re suffering from the Curse of Knowledge. We’ve written about this before.

But what if everyone in the room is operating under the same Curse of Knowledge? They cancel each other out, right? If everyone understands the curse, can I keep using it?

Well, maybe.

Anytime we’re presenting – whether at a meeting, conference, kick-off or coffee shop – we want to be on the same page as our audience. We need to be sure we are inclusive, which can mean speaking to the lowest-common denominator. This is true even in a room where everyone understands cloud computing (or righty/lefty splits in baseball, or whatever the cursed subject matter may be).

This is generally the part of the blog post where people assume we’re going to suggest dumbing down the message. In truth it is never about dumbing down the message.

Wait, really? Why not? Well for starters, “dumb it down” sounds like you’re explaining something in the same slow, pause-heavy pace you would use to explain to your four-year-old niece why her goldfish died. It’s usually best to assume intelligence on the part of your audience.

But more importantly, dumbing down your message doesn’t make it stick. As such, the better recommendation is to speak in concrete terms rather than abstract ones.

If your message doesn’t stick, it won’t survive beyond our initial audience.  When you speak in concrete details everyone in your audience benefits, regardless of their degree of cursed-ness.

Say you’re speaking to a room full of tech savvy folks. You could say “our network is secure.” Everyone in the audience – regardless of how cursed by tech they are – would have some understanding of what you mean. However, saying that also leaves up to the audience to interpret exactly what “secure” means. Let’s try something more concrete instead: “We dared the three biggest hackers in the Bay Area to break in to our network. None of them could.”

Boom. Everyone in the audience – from the most cursed person to the least – can pass along that concrete message.

Or imagine you’re in a meeting discussing internal candidates for a project manager job. All of you are “cursed” with the knowledge of what it takes to succeed, so it’s tempting to just say “she’s organized,” and leave it at that. Instead, think through the daily email load for a project manager and how important organization is. Then try saying something like, “I have never seen more than three items in her inbox.”

If you feel the curse at your job, where can you add concreteness? When has concreteness made a difference in your life? Tell us in the comments!

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2 comments on “What If Everybody is Cursed By Knowledge?

  1. Always nice to read your posts, Kelly. There is a saying, the less you know, the happier you are. Is it possible to consider knowledge a curse? It is not that fair to say that knowledge is the actual power in anything but a very small number of circumstances, like speaking, as the speaker knows more about the topics as his audience. But the real power is technology or even influence. Knowledge is exploited by those who want actual power and then cast aside.

  2. Concreteness in speaking communication sounds similar to what is preached to writers- show don’t tell. For instance, if a character is upset, then write, “come on ref, call the foul.. We’ve been getting hacked all game!” instead of writing the coach was angry and yelled at the ref.