My Neighbor Bores Me and Why This Matters to You
By Neil Baron My neighbor Connor is a great guy. We enjoy talking about a variety of topics including kids, sports, pets and even politics. However, over the years, I have learned to never ask Connor about work. The problem is that Connor is an expert in microbiology. His conversation is peppered with terms like bioremediation, capsid, mycelium and prokaryote. And despite the fact that I have a scientific background, I have absolutely no idea what he is talking about. Connor is articulate on a wide array of topics and would never knowingly try to confuse or bore me. Yet that is exactly what he is doing. What is going on? Connor’s problem is that he is victimized by the curse of knowledge. The curse of knowledge was first identified by psychologists in the 1970s. It is an innate bias that makes it extremely difficult for experts to think about things from the perspective of non-experts. In other words, Connor’s expertise makes it impossible for him to talk about work with non-experts like me. Essentially, he is too smart for his own good. Scientists like Connor are not the only ones afflicted by this curse. The curse of knowledge runs rampant in the technology industry. This popular YouTube video pokes fun at how technology companies talk with their non-expert customers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oIS5n9Oyzsc Yet non-experts often make the buying decisions that are vital to our commercial success.
- Here are three ideas for how to avoid falling victim to this curse. Many people get extremely frustrated with their organization’s inability to talk in language that their customers understand. Recognize that it is how our brains are wired; it’s not a personal weakness that causes us to do a deep dive on product features.
- When building and refining your value proposition and external communications, include people who are non-technology experts in the discussions. These individuals could be from other internal organizations, an external consultant or a customer.
- Rethink how you build your product teams. Frequently, the key requirement for a product manager or product marketing role is unmatched product and technology expertise. Having only people with in-depth product knowledge in these critical roles can increase the risk that you will be afflicted by the curse of knowledge. Consider hiring non-experts with a skill set honed in other industries for these positions.
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