Special Reports

The Curse Of Knowledge: What It Is And How To Overcome It


Is having too much knowledge a bad thing? In terms of communication, it could be - especially when the receiver of the message does not understand what the speaker is talking about.

The Curse of Knowledge (TCOK), according to the Harvard Business School's HBX blog, is a term used to describe a situation where an expert is "unable to communicate their ideas to novices because they have forgotten what it's like to be unfamiliar with their area of interest." This phenomenon exists in other fields when professors, who do well in their research, fail to effectively teach basic concepts to their students or when scientists struggle to share their findings to the general public.

TCOK is also common in traditional businesses with teams that are composed of functional specialists. It was noted that specialization actually makes communication across different teams more difficult. It is made even worse with unnecessary jargon.

It is important to combat TCOK since it usually results to losses in productivity as well as general frustration for everyone. The publication shared two key things that companies can do to prevent TCOK from doing more damage than it already does.

1. "Find a common language that everyone in your business speaks."

This is different from "dumbing things down." The point here is to find the "lowest common denominator that everyone, no matter their role or position, can understand." This would take practice and empathy within the different teams but, in the long run, it would definitely be worth the effort. This would not only save the company time and resources, it would also help employees work better together.

2. "Always use concrete language whenever possible."

Vague language is not a good communication tool. Leaders who want to convey a new strategy to their organizations should be as specific as possible. While the mission can be broad, the relaying of what and how to do the strategy should be detailed in order to promote the proper execution for it. Stories and images are perfect tools for concrete language.

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