The Curse of Knowledge

There are many useful take-aways from the Heath brothers’ book Made to Stick, but my favorite is the Curse of Knowledge. The idea is that, once you know something, it’s difficult to remember what it was like to not know it. As a result, as experts of our jobs, products, companies, or industries, it is difficult for us to speak simply and concretely to an audience of non-experts.

The rub: Our customers are non-experts.

We know the capabilities and limitations of our internal processes and back-end technology; our customers only care about how well their needs are met. As marketers, we think the benefits of our products or services are obvious; to our customers, they are often anything but. The engineers and technical writers who put together manuals or assembly guides are cursed with the knowledge of what the thing is and how it should look and function; customers frequently see these expert-designed guides, get frustrated, and either return the darn thing or call a CSR.

The Curse of Knowledge is unavoidable. Fortunately, we can mitigate its effects by tapping into the knowledge of non-experts – namely, what it’s like to not know. Customer surveys, usability tests and in-context observation, and collecting feedback from colleagues who directly interact with customers (sales, customer service, tech support) are great ways to remind ourselves what it feels like to not know.

Bear in mind that this isn’t a one-shot deal. We can’t conduct one user test or survey, analyze the findings, implement the improvements, and then celebrate because we’re cured. Mitigating the Curse of Knowledge requires constant vigilance because the curse is essentially a huge blind spot – one that doesn’t go away and, in fact, grows bigger with everything we learn.

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This entry was posted in Company culture, Surveys, Usability, VOC, VOE. Bookmark the permalink.

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