Overcome the “Curse of Knowledge” To Tell Your Story More Powerfully

May 13, 2011Leave a reply

In their best-selling book, Made to Stick, Heath brothers Chip and Dan share the results of a 1990 experiment performed by Elizabeth Newton at Stanford University.

Ms. Newton devised a simple game in which she assigned people to one of two roles: “tappers” and “listeners.”

Tappers received a list of 25 well-known songs and were asked to pick one and tap the song’s rhythm by knocking on a table. The listener’s were asked to guess the song based on the tapped rhythm.

Over the course of the experiment, 120 songs were tapped out.

The interesting twist to the experiment was that Newton asked tappers to predict the odds that the listeners would guess correctly. They predicted that listeners would guess the correct song 50 percent of the time.

Any guess what the actual results were?

Listeners only guessed 2.5 percent of the songs — 3 out of 120.

Why is this? It’s simple: When a tapper taps, he hears the song in his head. But listeners cannot hear the tune. They just hear a bunch of disconnected, seemingly random taps.

Chip and Dan write:

“In the experiment, tappers are flabbergasted at how hard the listeners seem to be working to pick up the tune. Isn’t the song obvious?

“The problem is that tappers have been given knowledge (song title) that makes it impossible for them to imagine what it’s like to lack that knowledge…

“This is the Curse of Knowledge. Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Our knowledge has ‘cursed’ us. And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can’t readily re-create our listeners’ state of mind.”

The tapper/listener quandary is played out every day in business. Business owners tap out tunes and feel frustrated when customers just don’t get it.

“Maybe if I tap louder and longer,” they think. “Or maybe I just need to offer a 50% discount.”

No. What they need to do is get out of the box to see things from the customer’s perspective. Problem is, that’s extremely difficult to do when suffering from the Curse of Knowledge.

That’s where we come in. Because we’re not in your box, we help you overcome the Curse of Knowledge. We help you uncover, highlight, and spread your most effective and relevant stories.

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