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The Curse of Knowledge

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

I’ll let you in on a little secret.

It’s the biggest problem facing most thought leaders. If you can overcome it, you’ll be unstoppable.

It’s called the curse of knowledge.

Basically, the more you learn about a subject, the farther away you travel from your beginner self. You begin to see nuance, complexity.

This all feels so natural—you’re finally becoming an expert!

Except, pretty soon you’re called upon to share your wisdom with an audience of non-experts. And despite writing a speech loaded with technical language that you’re certain will impress your audience, all you get are blank stares.

You think, what’s wrong with them? Don’t they realize how brilliant I am?

This is the curse of knowledge at a full gallop. You are so knowledgeable, you’ve fully forgotten what it’s like to be a beginner, and so you blame a lack of understanding on others, when really it's you who's the problem.

So, how do you break the curse? I see a few options.

Remind yourself of the curse.

Find ways to cue yourself to remember who you're talking to and what (you think) they know. Adjust accordingly.

Focus group your message.

Find a friend who fits your imagined audience and test your messaging on them. See where the story breaks down.

Find a partner.

If 1 and 2 sound too hard, hire a storyteller who specializes in that translation, just as you might hire an interpreter in a foreign country instead of learning the language.

The bad news is, the curse of knowledge never really goes away. If your job requires expertise, you’ll always be forced to “undo” what you know when you want to promote your ideas.

The good news is, it’s work almost nobody wants to do. Just by making the slightest effort, you’ll begin to enjoy privileges your cursed colleagues will never know.

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