In my daily work, I collaborate with various professionals: from finance experts and accountants to software developers, designers, and marketing specialists. Each is a master in their respective domains.
While product managers are also specialists, the realm of Product thrives on a "generalist" ethos. Today, I want to shed light on a prevalent misconception often observed when interacting with experts: the "Curse of Knowledge". I first recognized this in myself when attempting to describe Product management to an individual unfamiliar with the sector.
The "Curse of Knowledge" is a cognitive bias. It arises when individuals deeply versed in a topic struggle to see it from the perspective of those less informed. Essentially, once you've internalized a piece of knowledge, it becomes challenging to recall not knowing it.
This cognitive situation can obstruct clear communication, project explanations, and alignment. When a knowledgeable person presumes others possess the same background understanding, they risk creating confusion or a sense of exclusion.
The Famous Experiment from "Made to Stick"
In "Made to Stick", authors Chip and Dan Heath reference a study led by Elizabeth Newton in 1990. Participants were categorized as "tappers" or "listeners". Tappers would relay recognizable tunes, such as "Happy Birthday", using table taps, while listeners tried to identify the melodies. Although tappers anticipated a 50% success rate for the listeners, a mere 2.5% identified the songs. This experiment vividly illustrates the Curse of Knowledge: the tappers found it difficult to dissociate their comprehensive awareness of the song from the rudimentary taps.
(such a great example to explain curse of knowledge)
How to Spot It:
- Assumption of Understanding: If you find yourself thinking, "It's obvious" or "Everyone knows that", you might be under the curse. CVR does not mean conversion rate for everyone.
- Frustration: If you're getting impatient with someone not grasping what you're sharing, it's a sign.
- Overuse of Jargon: Using specialized language that only experts would understand.
How to Deal with It:
- Simplify: Break down complex ideas into basic concepts. Avoid jargon.
- Ask for Feedback: Encourage your audience to ask questions or summarize what they've understood.
- Use Analogies and Stories: These can bridge the gap between what you know and what your audience knows.
- Practice Active Listening: Ensure you're paying attention to verbal and non-verbal feedback.
In Product management, effective communication is more than important. Recognizing and mitigating the Curse of Knowledge ensures that both "tappers" and "listeners" share mutual understanding.