The Curse of Knowledge

2020-11-24 16:24:08
ZenTao Official
Original 171
Summary : The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, communicating with other individuals, unknowingly assumes that the others have the background to understand. It holds that it is difficult to imagine what it feels like not knowing something, once you know it. Since you do not remember what you do not understand, it is difficult for you to explain your knowledge to those who are not on the same level of understanding as you are.


Let's play a game first. Tap on the table to the rhythm of a song while thinking of the song. The one who taps can hear the song in his head, but the ones sitting at the table and listening to the tap can only hear the tapping sound, because they cannot hear the songs in his head. 

 

Have you ever tried to explain a concept to your team, and the explanation would only bring more confusion? No matter what is your description of the concept, or how hard you were trying? Your team just do not understand it. This is the consequence of the curse of knowledge.

The Curse of Knowledge

The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, communicating with other individuals, unknowingly assumes that the others have the background to understand. It holds that it is difficult to imagine what it feels like not knowing something, once you know it. Since you do not remember what you do not understand, it is difficult for you to explain your knowledge to those who are not on the same level of understanding as you are. 

 

The project team made assumptions about users, which caused problems in the end. The consequence is usually a failed project. One of the reasons might be a very important concept for the project manager, because it has a significant impact on the project. The project manager is the one who knows the project best. Through the experience, the project manager has accumulated knowledge over time. Then, the project manager tends to use his insights to understand the project and its impact, and often ignore or underestimate the complexity of the product and the project. When talking about ideas with others, the project manager tends to assume that others have known knowledge and thinking to the level of ours. How could they not know? How could they not understand? He just does not see this, and makes the team confused, frustrated, disillusioned and indifferent.

The Curse Breaker

What should the project manager do? First of all, it is important to realize this concept of the curse of knowledge in our project. Educate yourself and others in your project team about it. The awareness of the concept leads to the defense against its potentially destructive effects actively. Then, ask stakeholders a lot of questions and listen to their answers, which helps you assess their understanding and satisfaction with the expected results. Listen to their response, needs and desires carefully. Pay attention to their reaction, speech, as well as how they say it. Those are the key clues to a successful project. Once you start feeling frustrated with their overly simple and tedious answers, it may be time that you enter the zone of the "curse".


“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” 
                                                              -Albert Einstein
  • Don’t try to impress others with your knowledge. Don’t use jargon and acronyms without explaining them. 
  • Discover your team's level of understanding. 
  • Don’t assume too much. Ask whether your team understands what you said. 
  • Don’t use abstract terms. Use concrete language. Give examples.
  • Tell stories. Use stories to provide background, contexts and perspectives to your stakeholders.
  • Define a glossary. and include it in the planning documents.
  • Continually train newcomers and the team to make sure you are on the same page. 

Conclusion

People tend to assume others know what they are talking about. For project managers, it is necessary to be aware of the curse of knowledge. When doing a project, try the dos and donts mentioned above. Always treat your users and teams like they know nothing at all. Explain. And explain thoroughly.

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