Quick Tips! The Curse of Knowledge

Videos June 23, 2020

Have you ever tried explaining the work you do to someone who works outside of your field? Many times, professionals are so consumed in their areas of focus that they forget to take a step back and explain some of the more foundational pieces of their expertise when engaging with others. This form of cognitive bias is often referred to as the “curse of knowledge.” 

In this Quick Tips! video, Interact’s President Cheryl Broom explains this phenomenon and offers advice on how you can improve communicating your expertise to others so you don’t lose them in your conversations.


Hi! I’m coming to you from Sacramento, California, where I’m attending the Association for Community and Continuing Education conference. And I had the great opportunity to speak at this conference with one of our clients and colleagues on noncredit marketing and how to strengthen program-based noncredit marketing to get the word out to communities on all the wonderful things that our adult education and noncredit partners do. And while I was speaking yesterday, I was really struck by how interested the audience was in learning about some key, basic marketing terms. I had spent a couple minutes before we dove into their campaigns, just explaining the difference between push and pull marketing, how audience segmentation works, and I thought I was going to put everyone to sleep, and they were really into it. They’re really interested. And it made me reflect back on something called the curse of knowledge. And it sounds very ominous, right?

Like something a witch would, like, shoot down on you. Here’s knowledge. But basically, the curse of knowledge is a good thing if you’re aware of it. So once we know something, once we’re practitioners of something, we have a hard time reverting back to the time where we didn’t know it. Once we have this knowledge, it’s like a curse because we think that everybody else around us has the same knowledge or the same basic level of understanding. So we might blurt out terms or acronyms or processes that we think are just so simple and so basic and we forget that people don’t know what we’re talking about. They don’t have the background information or any information to give them context so that they can understand something at the level that we understand it. So why is this important for you to know? Well, your job at a community college is to market your college, to talk about your college, to get stakeholder buy-in.

And sometimes you really have to go back to the beginning and really educate your audience and your college on what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, what the metrics are, and what they mean before you just jump into jargon that means a lot to us, but doesn’t mean a lot to everyone else. So if you ever have an opportunity to hold teaching sessions at your college to educate about marketing, I think it’s going to take you a long way on getting some really good stakeholder buy-in. And if that’s not always possible, what I found, as a way to always reduce that imbalance, that information imbalance between those privy to knowledge and those not, is through storytelling. So a great story can illustrate concepts in a way that maybe a lecture can’t. So think of a way when you’re presenting dense subject material to weave in some stories to help your audience understand and to them context.

So the curse of knowledge doesn’t have to be a curse. It can be a beautiful thing. I just want to make you aware that when you’re up on that podium, when you’re talking to that classroom, or when you’re in that committee meeting, don’t make the assumption that everybody has the same level of knowledge that you do. Break it down, tell some great stories, and really aim to get your audience on the same level of understanding that you are. So that’s my tip for today. I hope you enjoyed it and I will catch you next time. Bye.