Jean’s Story: Defeating “The Curse Of Knowledge”

A Critical Doer capitalizes on opportunities to be better 

A good friend recently shared an article from the Harvard Business Review with me.  It immediately caught my attention because the authors are two of my favorites…Chip and Dan Heath.  Along with Malcolm Gladwell, they have a gift for distilling heavy research into a folksy narrative that the rest of us can understand and easily apply in everyday living.  This article is called “The Curse of Knowledge” and it perfectly fits a great professional I work with.  Her story is a good one for a Critical Doer looking to defeat “the curse of knowledge” and achieve at a higher level.

Jean Duggan is a professional whose craft is strategic communication.  We frequently collaborate on projects, and without fail they turn out better because of her wise counsel on how to communicate ideas effectively.  Like many, I’m sometimes a perpetrator in building a narrative that wrongly assumes what the listener should either know or intuitively “get”.  Like everyone, I’m also a victim and tend to react negatively to a narrative that can’t explain how we mentally connect point A to point B.

Jean’s gift is listening to a narrative and mentally disconnecting from what she already knows about a project.  Through this process, she asks precise questions that forces the team to build the story’s connective tissue so the message makes logical sense to someone who has never heard the message before.

If you can’t easily appreciate how tough this is to do, you really need to try it.  Making your mind a blank page to construct a narrative on an idea you’ve invested thousands of hours into isn’t easy, but it’s also necessary if you want your idea to gain acceptance.  Don’t forget, your ideas alone will not make you a Critical Doer…they have to gain acceptance and become actionable to make the leap from critical thinker to Critical Doer.

Here are some tips you can use to help overcome the curse of knowledge and turn your critical thinking into critical doing:

  1. Build the narrative incrementally as you develop your idea. At periodic phases of developing an idea or a project, invest time constructing the narrative based upon where you are now.  It will certainly help in communicating today, but there is another benefit.  The curse of knowledge gets stronger with time…the further back you go to build a narrative, the more you assume about a listener’s baseline of knowledge and most times you’re wrong.  Building as you go will help defeat this faulty assumption.
  2. Work with a professional. My contention is that many, many good ideas never get turned into action because of a fatal flaw…communication.  Employing the help of a strategic communication professional could be a pittance of an investment in the long haul if you succeed…versus a huge loss if you fail.
  3. Practice makes perfect. Take opportunities to tell people about your idea so you practice telling your story and listening to the questions they ask as well as the subtle nonverbal cues of where you’re not making a connection.  Friends, family, and others with no competitive interest in your project can provide invaluable intelligence to refine your message and turn your vision into reality.

Your challenge is to learn from Jean’s story and work your narrative as energetically as you work through the mechanics of your idea.  Absent strategic communication, your idea is just an idea.  With an effective narrative, it becomes action that benefits others and fulfilling achievement for you.  Give it a try; it’s what a Critical Doer would…do!


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Updated: October 24, 2015 — 1:56 pm