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The Curse Of Knowledge

What prevents people from sharing information or asking questions?

A book I am reading at the moment called “Made to Stick” talks about “The Curse Of Knowledge”.  (More on this awesome book later).  More specifically, they get into stories about people trying to teach a concept to other people.  The storyteller is very knowledgeable about the topic, the listener is not. So the listener has to get the concept from the teacher.  Easy right?  We do this almost every day, helping out our peers.

Try this experiment out (and this is the one that they did in the book):  One person “knocks” a rhythm to a song in their head, while a second person listens to the knocking and tries to guess what the song is.  You hear the song in your head, you are knocking out the rhythm.  It is such a simple song, why do they look so confused?  Why can’t they figure it out? When the researchers actually did the experiment, 50% of the knockers thought that the listener would guess right.  In fact, only 2% of listeners actually guessed right!

What stands out to me is that people take for granted what they know, and what their experience has taught them.  It seems that every single day I recognize this happening.  I catch myself in a situation where I need to pause and evaluate my audience, and I see others doing it constantly.  The other day  @Autom8it posted a question on asking about monitoring the status of an Ethernet module.  In my head I am thinking he just needs to write a simple instruction to get that information from the module.  But that is too easy, he must have a different problem, after all he is a smart guy, I don’t want to insult his intelligence thinking that he does not know about that instruction.  Talking to him a few days later, he had posted his answer – after doing some research and talking to tech support – on exactly the solution I was completely able to give. Doh!!  It never crossed my mind that he would not know how to use that instruction.

This is a curse that everyone with knowledge has – taking what we know for granted, and not thinking it is important enough, or being scared to share.  If you contribute to a wiki page, blog, or ask/answer a question, etc. what is the worst thing that is going to happen?  Someone is going to comment on it?  Improve it?  Re-write it?  Is someone in your organization going to take offense to it?  I doubt it.

The worst thing that could happen is not contributing, not getting the ideas out, and not getting the discussion to happen.

This concept is making me think really hard about how I interact with people every day.

So now that you know what the curse is, what are you going to do about it?

Posted in 2.0 Lessons, Business, Random Thoughts, Social Media.

2 Responses

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  1. Brian Hughes says

    It is so true and I agree totally – we tend to under estimate the value of our own knowledge to others. Just this evening my wife who is a teacher was sharing some great feedback she received after posting some learning tools she created on a site for other teachers to use. The feedback was from a teacher of teacher commenting on how difficult it is to get people to share what they know with others. It is a broad challenge – great leadership Jeremy on your challenge to us all!

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  1. Tweets that mention The Curse Of Knowledge | Jeremy On 2.0 -- linked to this post on October 5, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ken McLaughlin, Jeremy Sluyters. Jeremy Sluyters said: The Curse Of Knowledge – What prevents people from sharing information or asking questions? #fb #in […]

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