The Curse Of Knowledge

Earlier this month, at the WebEngage office, we hosted iSpirt’s latest roundtable on “product positioning and messaging“. During the course of this meetup, a very interesting term was coined – The Curse Of Knowledge.

This phrase came up during the discussion when founders were trying to explain their offering and highlight the problems they faced w.r.t product positioning. Almost everyone struggled to “position” their product accurately in front of the small audience in that room. The problem was evident – how on earth would the rest of the world get it right, if people in that room struggled?

curse-of-knowledge

Our anchor attendee, Shankar Marwuwada, coined the phrase “curse of knowledge” to explain the problem. Though the phrase has been around for a while, it was new to me. Also, Shankar’s explanation of the phrase stuck with me. It will continue to be a part of my thought processes and actions for a long long time. I want you to benefit from it too, hence this post.

What is the curse of knowledge?

In very simple terms, it is our inability to accept that the person in front of us (during a conversation) may not be as informed as ourselves. Too complicated to understand? There you go – that’s my curse! Once I spent some time thinking about the whole thing – it started making sense to me. We spend so much time talking – giving instructions to our domestic helps, assigning tasks to peers, selling and marketing our products, seeking help from others … the list goes on.

Our subconscious drives us to speak in our comfort zones. We tend to make assumptions, without even realizing that we are making them. I remember my early days of selling at WebEngage – I’d start doing tech speak almost everytime in my pitches, without realizing that the guy I am pitching to, doesn’t care less about it.

Is it a founder’s curse?

I wish. For if it were, the problem could easily be solved by “fixing” a couple of folks. Unfortunately, we are all cursed – some more, some less.

As engineers, we are so cursed with our understanding of writing software that even the slightest hint of crossing over that bridge, makes us uncomfortable. We “expect” everybody to understand the language we speak. We know the most, you see.

As designers, we are so cursed with our obsession around design, that we give up. We don’t talk at all, because others don’t “get it”. We are so cursed in our heads, that we cannot simply dumb it down for our engineers and customers.

As salesmen/women, we are so cursed with our (mis)understanding of the product, that we try to fix all the problems that the world has – well, with one single product. And then, it shows in our conversations. We don’t give up, even if our prospect does.

As founders, we expect everybody to start delivering great things – because its so simple. Why is it so hard? If we could do it, why can’t everyone else? Right? Wrong. We are cursed with our larger view that has come through our experiences. How on earth would others even have a clue unless its shared as is? Not knowing that is our curse.

I don’t want to speak for investors. However, if you are one, believe me you are cursed too – with your ideas of “themes”, “hot sectors” and “market size”.

Is there a fix?

It seems, yes. Broadly, these are the two things I am working on, to fix my curse:

Learning how to dumb it down – if your role is that of a doer, this helps. No matter what you do, if you can dumb things down to bare essentials, you have gotten rid of your curse. This is not easy – your curse will come in the way to doing so. Your logic will defy your act of dumbing it down. How can you do dumb things after all? If it helps, do remember that your IQ doesn’t go down by doing that. Instead, you are helping others improve theirs.

Learning how to converse – if talking is what you do for a living, learn how to talk less and listen more. Its counter intuitive, but it does help. Arm yourself with resources while talking – data, samples, anecdotes etc. The world is unfair, it wasn’t waiting for you to change it. If you still wish to change it for good, you have to learn how to tell stories. Stories register. Product features don’t. But then, your curse will come in the way of doing so. Why on earth won’t you quickly get down to business than talking bullshit? Right? Yeah, I know … If it helps, do remember that you live in a world where Nobody Cares.

Thanks for a patient read. I wish you a very happy festive season and a “curse free” 2015. May you win!

– Avlesh

Latest Comments

  1. Pradeep says:

    Hi Avlesh,
    I absolutely agree to the Ideology, as we sometimes fail to see things from a user’s level or to group them in an abstract way that clearifies what should be explained/designed what way, And this void leaves us with many functionalities hidden from good chunk users. So yes everyone should dumb it down to a understandable level. Great column, enjoyed reading the insightful thoughts you have.
    Thanks,
    Pradeep

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