The curse of knowledge


More information, more experience, more skills-those are all good things, right? Actually, your know-how can sometimes work against you.

Sometimes when I read a book, there's one key idea that I think of again and again. Appropriately enough, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (Random House, 2007), a book about what makes you remember some concepts and not others, delivered that experience. And the sticky idea that authors Chip and Dan Heath share is about a communication breakdown we all suffer.

Here's the basic premise: Once you know something, it's hard to imagine not knowing it. And it becomes difficult to share your knowledge, because you can't recreate your listener's not-knowing perspective. You may even feel frustrated that the person you're talking with doesn't get it when the issue is so clear to you.

The fix, the authors say, is to present your idea or plan or argument differently. With the right strategy, they say, you can overcome the curse of knowledge and communicate your ideas in ways that make them both memorable and meaningful to your listeners. The stickiest ideas, they say, share six characteristics:

  • They're simple and meaningful. The Heath brothers say you're looking for a proverb here, not a sound bite. Something like, "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." It's short, meaningful, and memorable.

  • Sticky ideas are unexpected, so they get listeners' attention. For your clients, the information that periodontal disease may contribute to other serious pet health problems such as heart disease and kidney failure might be one example.

  • They focus on concrete realities instead of conceptual issues.

  • They come from a credible source. Maybe that's you or an outside expert, resource, author, or study.

  • They elicit emotion.

  • They tell a story. In general we remember stories better than facts with little or no context.

John F. Kennedy, the authors say, accomplished all six of these things when he set forth this vision: to put a man on the moon and return him safely by the end of the decade. Using these strategies, could you communicate your own compelling vision for your practice life, for your work team, or for your family?

That's the big picture, but you might be able to hone your everyday conversations with this kind of thinking, too. After all, you want Mrs. Jones to share your vision for a slimmer Maxie. You want your team to share your vision of complete dental care for pets. You want your kids to share your vision of a healthy, well-kept lawn.

Maybe you could tell your clients about what you did to get your black Lab Lucy slimmed down. Or use before-and-after shots of other pets that lost weight to make the goal more concrete. Or you could use models and diagrams to help your clients see what you see.

After all, you're not just flapping your gums all day. You have critical information to share about pets' health. The key is to make your message stick—no matter what that message is.

Marnette Falley

Marnette Denell Falley, Editor

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