The Curse of Knowledge

The Curse of Knowledge is a fancy name for the phenomenon that we can’t imagine what it would be like if we didn’t knew what we know. Go ahead, try it! What’s it like to not know what a variable is?

It’s impossible. And that’s the reason why the Curse of Knowledge is so dangerous. It hides behind a feeling of clarity inside. Yet, for an outsider, what appears clear to ourselves might be totally confusing.

The Curse of Knowledge leads us to use technical terms without explaining them, to use acronyms and abbreviations that our audiences aren’t familiar with, or to just assume that our audiences know the background of an incident when, in fact, they don’t.

The problem when we don’t fight the Curse of Knowledge is that we waste everyone’s time with figuring out what we mean. Yet, that’s common practice. In a lot of settings, people are just ok with communication that lacks clarity. Somehow, it seems acceptable to have the audience figure out what it all means.

Great speakers set themselves apart by not settling with this. Great speakers have figured out how to speak with clarity so they can overcome the Curse of Knowledge. Rather than have their audiences invest the time to figure it out, they themselves invest the time to figure out how to speak with clarity.

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Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz