“The curse of knowledge” refers to a cognitive bias that occurs when you understand something and then assume that everyone else does as well. Here are some examples of how this bias can manifest itself in business situations, as well as some proposed solutions.
In high school, Alex worked at a food cafe and frequently complained about dealing with customers. When someone asked for a complimentary cup, he became frustrated and pointed to the obvious sign that said “no complimentary cups.”
The thing is, if you’ve been working there 15 hours a week for three months, the sign is very obvious. If it’s your first time here, it’s not as obvious. People cannot be expected to read every sign they come across.
- Remind your staff on a regular basis that they have unique knowledge and familiarity that the customers do not.
- Find a way to monitor where customers are becoming perplexed, then either improve your communication with them or change your policy to accommodate their assumptions. After all, which is more costly—giving away a free cup or having irritated employees and clients?
The curse of knowledge also has an impact on web, app, and ecommerce design. What is obvious to the programmer or designer is not always obvious to the customer, especially when it comes to those “intuitive” things we’re all supposed to know.
Don’t assume your customers are aware of what you are aware of.
- Use the standard features that everyone is familiar with whenever possible. In other words, when in doubt, imitate Amazon.
- Before implementing a design change or a new feature, have it reviewed by several people who are unfamiliar with the project.
- Test your Android instructions with Apple users and vice versa.
- Create mechanisms for tracking problems. Check to see if people are behaving as expected if you expect them to follow a certain path.
The curse of knowledge can also work in the other way, leaving the project manager in the dark even though the technical team is aware of a problem.
- Overcommunicate. Yes, it’s annoying, but it’s preferable to miscommunication.
- In your regular updates, include links to important project documents. Make it clear where people can find updates.
- Project managers should check in with technical personnel to get their take on potential issues.
Buzzwords and industry lingo
Do your salespeople use buzzwords and acronyms that result in incomprehensible gibberish? They may believe it makes them sound more knowledgeable, or they may be so accustomed to the buzzwords that they can’t help themselves, but it’s turning off many of your opportunities.
- Make it a habit to always use the full name before the acronym.
- When you find yourself using industry jargon, stop yourself and come up with a different phrase. You won’t sound like a tool, and you’ll learn more words as a result, which will help you understand the idea better.
It cuts the other way as well
You don’t want to assume that everyone knows what you know, but going too far the other way can be annoying.
In other words, while you don’t want to assume everyone knows what you know, you also don’t want to treat educated, professional people like novices. It can be difficult to strike a balance, but if you constantly remind yourself of that pesky “curse of knowledge,” you’ll succeed.
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