Ron del.icio.us’ed me a link about the Curse of Knowledge. I have to say I have been party to the curse of knowledge on more that one occasion. What I learned is that the curse of knowledge is really a symptom of flawed communication. As the complexity of the information increases so does the impact of flawed communication. So as I have had to deal with this in my career, I have developed some simple rules to help improve the communication and reduce the curse of knowledge.
- Make clear any assumptions you might have about the topic or the listener’s/reader’s understanding of the topic.
- Allow the listener to ask refining questions and respond in a supportive manner.
- Break the topic into small logical chunks. (This is one can be tough)
- Don’t expect the listeners light bulb to go off as soon as your done communicating.
- Use pictures and/or a white board when ever possible.
- Actually listen/read and consider the responses from your explanation.
- Be willing to be wrong and admit it.
- Avoid email at all cost, when the information is important only communicate Face to Face, For the less important stuff the telephone will do, and only use email for the mundane.
- Communicate until you feel like your being a bother. It is at he bother point you are just communicating enough.
Remember it never seems obvious to the listener.
Why do we have so many meetings that have few observable results?
Under communication creates over congregation.
We have so many meetings because the participants spend a great deal of time and effort removing ambiguity and aligning expectations. The ambiguity and misaligned expectation are the symptoms of to little communication. Face to face communication is rich and powerful but it is expensive, requiring parties to be present at the same point in time and space, and has a limited scope of accountability. There are techniques to increase the accountability of people who use face to face communication as a primary communication mechanism. Techniques like formalized follow-up and written recaps create artifacts of the communication.
The lack of communication in any organization forces people to seek the richest form of communication. Over communication is key to reducing the number of meetings and managers must be conduits for and facilitators of communication. I found that when I feel like I am communicating to much, I am really just communicating enough.
So over communicate you might find that you have fewer meeting and become more effective.
Many times people are unable to sustain a dialog without some concrete representation to reference. In many organizations critical decisions, direction, assumptions and goals go under communicated. A document creates an opportunity to hold critical information but importantly it creates a relationship between the interested parties. The parties may have little opportunity to communicate and without the formality of a document the dialog never reaches critical mass or never occurs.
For example a report card really is a conversation piece to be used by the parent, teacher and student/child. In the end the value of dialog generated by the report card will eclipse the document itself.
The importance of the document is eclipsed by the dialog that is triggered and focused by the existence of the document. At some level the document is simply a conversation piece used to focus the exchange and create a reason for meaningful discussion. Once the conversations are complete and a meaningful result is achieved the document becomes a reference to the dialog that can be used to remind all parties of the exchange and commitments.
I know this is not some formal methodology where the documents are the critical and substantive. Pragmatically the value of the document will rarely exceed the value of the collaborative dialog that surrounds its creation, socialization, and acceptance. In the end the document is just a piece of corporate art that inspires passions, opinions and is left as a memory of it all.