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The Curse of Knowledge

The Curse of Knowledge

There’s something about the idea of a curse that harkens back to a time of mystery.  It calls back to a time when we didn’t understand much about the world, and everything was magical.  Lurking deep in the idea of the curse is that someone might be able to influence your luck and therefore doom you.  Knowledge, on the other hand, is a prized asset, something that can be held in the minds of people and, in some cases, recorded into ways that others can use it.  Together, the curse of knowledge is something that we should fear – but too often, we aren’t aware and therefore don’t.

In leadership and change, the curse of knowledge is all about what we know and the expectation that others know it as well.  At some level, we’re aware that we need to educate the organization about the change.  We need to explain why, where we are today, and where we want to go to.  We need to explain the high level of how, what changes are being made at a high level to accommodate the change.

You’re Soaking in It

The problem is that we often attempt to deliver these messages all at once.  We expect that the process we went through to reach these insights and proposals aren’t necessary for others to go through.  We assume that they can accept radical reorganization of their worldviews without the benefit of time to process and accept the information.

To us, these changes didn’t occur in a flash of inspiration – even if it felt like it.  They came through the continual soaking in the idea of the current state and the market forces that might erode the base from our current state.

There’s an old Palmolive commercial series where women are getting manicures for their “dishpan hands.”  The technician is telling them about a new dish soap that doesn’t leave hands as dry, and the client asks about it.  The answer is “you’re soaking in it.”  The beauty of this commercial is that we often find ourselves in situations and we fail to fully realize it.

Compression Without Loss

The organization cannot afford for everyone to go through the processes that led to the need to change.  Reaching the detailed agreement on every aspect and in every way wouldn’t be effective.  We must find a way to compress the experience and package it in a way that doesn’t lose anything important.

Computer compression is a wonderful thing that promises reduced transfer times or reduced storage.  The idea is that you can faithfully reproduce something with less space by using mathematical algorithms and structures.  It’s effectively what we’re trying to do when we’re compressing the journey of discovery to the change for others.  Computer-based compression is limited to about 2x on average.  However, when we shift from an exact reproduction to an approximation, the average compression jumps.

This is the way we compress images.  By agreeing to the degree of loss of detail that we’re willing to accept, we can make images smaller.  The higher the quality, the more time and space it will take.  The decision shifts from whether to share a picture to how to share it in a way that is effective.

Stripping the Non-Essential Bits

In sharing the planned change journey, we must find a way to share the essential bits and remove anything that’s not essential.  We can do this best when we’re willing to test our messages on others who have not been involved with the change process.  Small pilot groups or trusted friends can provide the feedback we need to know what parts of the change message we must keep – and those we can part with.

Because of the curse of knowledge, we must rely on others to help us tune the message, or we’ll fall subject to the curse and doom ourselves to failing.

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