What’s the “Curse of Knowledge?”

If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you’ll have heard me talk about “The Curse of Knowledge,” which is, according to Dan Heath, “the more you know about something, the harder it is for you to imagine what it’s like to lack that knowledge.” This makes communicating with your potential ideal clients difficult.

Once you know something, you can’t “unknow” it.

In their book, Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath share the story of Ph.D. candidate Elizabeth Newton of Stanford University and her experiment called, “Tappers and Listeners.” This experiment divided a group of people into two: tappers and listeners. Tappers were given a list of well-known songs, like “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Happy Birthday.” They then were asked to predict how often their listeners would correctly guess the tune being tapped out, which they predicted at 50%. In 120 trials, the listeners only guessed correctly what the tappers tapped three times! (Those poor listeners just heard some kind of strange Morse Code!)

Why such disparity?

The tappers heard the melody in their heads as they tapped it out on the table. The listeners had no context or point of reference for the tapping.

If you have kids, you’ll likely have experienced this situation: your child runs up to you, super excited, and starts chattering away about the ins and outs of whatever it is occupying their thoughts. Typically, they’re in the middle of their thought process and you feel lost. With my son, this happened most often with Pokemon while my thoughts were otherwise engaged. I would have to say, “Would you please start at the beginning and catch me up.” I’d be met with an eye roll but he’d back up and fill me in.

Eye rolls aside, we often do the same thing to our clients!

Here is my three-step process for evading The Curse of Knowledge:

  1. What is it that you want your clients to know or do?
  2. What is your client’s pain point or desire?
  3. In 25 words (or less), reframe what you want from the perspective of your client’s pain or desire.

Watch my video where share insights about the Curse of Knowledge.

If you’re struggling to meet your ideal clients and think you might be suffering from The Curse of Knowledge, schedule a virtual coffee with me.



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