The Curse of Knowledge

Published: Aug 15 , 2013
Author: Alan Smith

I want you to try a little experiment.

Think of a simple tune. Something like Happy Birthday to You. (The most performed song in the English language, incidentally).

Now find a colleague, friend or partner and tap out the song for them without telling them the name of the song.

Do it once. Then do it again. And now once more for luck.

Ask them to name the song. Chances are they will have not got a clue. (If they have check that you didn't mouth out the song by accident).

You have just witnessed for yourself the concept of the curse of knowledge.

Because you know what you are doing and tapping you find it almost incomprehensible that the person you are tapping it out for doesn't get it.  I first came across this phenomenon in the fantastic book by Chip and Dan Heath called Made to Stick. I have referenced this book a number of times in previous Blogs and if you haven't read it yet, you should.

But when I read it I recognised it straight away from my observations of negotiators.

Often in the real world negotiators enter into dialogue assuming that the other side knows what they want, that they understand their motives and KPI's what will float their or their organisation's boat.

Maybe they will often they won't.

Being very clear about what you want and what is important to you gives you a much greater chance of getting it.

Might be better to tell them rather than tap it out.

Alan Smith


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About the author:

Alan Smith
My background is marketing and advertising. After graduating in Economics I entered the agency world to become, at 28, MD of London's largest independent below-the-line marketing provider.

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