The Curse of Knowledge

This concept, which I have witnessed over and over, especially in the technology industry, was illustrated wonderfully in the book, Made to Stick.  It was also in a great eBook by David Meerman Scott called the Gobbledygook Manifesto, which you can obtain at Find New Customers in the eBook section.

The concept of Curse of Knowledge was illustrated by the “Tapping Game,” which I share with my readers.

Elizabeth Newton earned her Ph. D. in psychology from Stanford in 1990 by studying a simple game in which she assigned people to one of two roles:

  • Tappers
  • Listeners

Tappers received a list of twenty five well-known songs, such as “Happy Birthday to You” and “The Star Spangled Banner.”  Each tapper was asked to choose a song from the list and tap out the rhythm to the listener (by knocking on the table).  The listener’s job was to guess the song based on the rhythm being tapped.

Before the tapping started, the tappers were asked to predict what percentage of listeners would correctly guess the song title.  The odds predicted were 50%.

In reality, 120 songs were tapped out and only 3 were guessed correctly, a whopping 2.5%!  Tappers were successful 1 time in 40, but they predicted 1 time in 2. Why?

When a tapper taps, she is hearing the song in her head.  Try it.  It’s virtually impossible NOT to hear the song in your head.  But to the listener, all they hear is a bunch of taps.

What’s going on here?

The crux of the problem is that the tappers have been given knowledge that makes it impossible to imagine what it like to lack that knowledge.

This is the same problem that happens in business.  A small software firm, for instance, may have so much experience with their CRM and ERP offerings that they find it impossible to imagine what it is like to not have that knowledge.  This makes it nearly impossible for them to craft marketing messages that stick.  (Or for that matter, to embrace ideas from smart marketing people on how to make sticky messages.)

In fact, they worsen the Curse of Knowledge when they decide they need a marketing person with industry experience.  They take the hole of Curse of Knowledge and dig it deeper and deeper.  (This person is very glad to be out of that loser situation.)

The only way to deal with the Curse of Knowledge is to take your ideas and transform them with 6 principles found in the book:

  1. Simplicity
  2. Unexpectedness
  3. Concreteness
  4. Credibility
  5. Emotions
  6. Stories

These are the six principles of successful ideas.  Learn them, embrace them, and defeat the Curse of Knowledge.

P.S. We’ve got the #1 expert in content marketing for a webinar on March 11th at noon.  Please visit Find New Customers to learn more.

Jeff Ogden is President of Find New CustomersLead Generation Made Simple”  He’s also the author of the highly acclaimed white paper, How to Find New Customers, as well as The Definitive Guide to Making Quota and Prospect-Driven Marketing. Find New Customers helps business develop and implement programs to improve the way they find and acquire new customers using best practices in lead generation.