Imagine a song (not Happy Birthday) in your head. A common familiar song. Then ask someone listen while you tap out the song on your desk. See if they can understand it. They almost always fail. Why? They can’t hear the music in your head, they just hear morse code from your desk. People teach in the same way. They know all the details of the subject matter as they know the music in their heads. However, the audience doesn’t know about all that history. They just hear you speaking. Teaching fails when you overestimate your audiences ears.
Symptoms of the Curse include:
- OMAGOD - Overuse of Meaningless Acronyms Given to Odd Details.
- Florkiness - Overuse of domain specific or internal names that new people do not understand.
- MetaData - Overuse of vague, meaningless terms
- Smurfing - Using a single term to mean multiple things.
- The Weeds – Inability to zoom up and see the forest first. They jump right into the weeds.
- Dicken’s Syndrome – Charles Dickens got paid by the word. (Close enough) Long prose is an awful way to explain something.
- RTFM – Read The F**king Manual. Or Wiki. When people can’t take the time to explain they use this cop-out.
There are tools to combat the Curse. Here is a short list:
- Simplify - Use common terminology and start with the highest level basic concepts.
- Create a baseline of language - Establish general nouns and verbs of what is going on.
- Use Analogies. Like a car or a plane.
- Interact and confirm learning. Make sure they are with you. Ask them to explain it back to you in their own words. Most people nod their heads when asked if they understand because they don’t want to be embarrassed. This is human psychology. Don’t assume people understand anything.
- Draw a picture. Like this:
The Curse of Knowledge is bad and has these effects:
- Slows new employee indoctrination
- Makes a company less productive and profitable because people don’t understand the details
- Reduces recruiting effectiveness because you can’t explain things
- Makes Sales harder because you can’t explain things
- Hurts the ability of leaders to lead because people make faulty assumptions
Don’t underestimate this blight on humanity. Fight it in your organization. Do your best to learn to teach better. Teaching is part of learning. I hope this post will help some of you teach better.