Are Experts Cursed?

“The curse of knowledge”

Not much sounds better than that. It is so grandiose.

“The curse of knowledge”

Sorry, I just couldn’t resist taking it in. This term was
originally coined by Colin Camerer, George Loewenstein, and Martin Weber in a
paper called The
Curse of Knowledge in Economic Settings: An Experimental Analysis.
The idea
is that once you become an expert your perception changes from awe to unremarkable.
Why? Because you know the ins and outs of the topic. The mysteries are solved.
You know the ending to the story.

For instance, a friend of mine uses his computer to write
great songs. I’m always his naïve bystander. He plays a song for me and I hear
this beautifully arranged piece of art. He asks me what I think and I usually
just enjoy the ride the music takes me on. But he doesn’t go on the ride. He
hears every flawed little blurp and blip that to me are part of the fabric. For
him the music slows down and becomes specific. For me it has its own pace and
collective. He can’t hear the same song I do. He is cursed with knowledge.

So after that long example, I get to what prompted me to write
my thoughts on this subject:  Janet Rae-Dupree. She wrote an
article for the NY Times titled Innovative
Minds Don’t Think Alike
. This article highlights the problems experts have
with creativity and innovation in their fields – “… they barrel along the
well-worn path.”

What is rare is an expert that can communicate what is in
their head. This isn’t something inconsequential either. The expert must be
aware of their personal knowledge base, their audience’s knowledge base, and an
effective means to meet in the middle. Teachers tend to be the best at this,
but in reality very few teachers are experts in their teaching field. They are experts at teaching.

One great example of poor communication is the television
remote. The engineer, or expert, is communicating to the end user the
functionality of the remote. Unfortunately, it is usually every function of the
remote. This is overkill. CBS just aired a 60
Minutes episode about the people, or geeks, that resolve this problem for
people.  It is called Get
Me The Geeks

So what is the upshot? Get very good at your job, but don’t stay
long enough in it to become an expert. Bounce around to other jobs where people
are fairly static and introduce your new ideas. Ruffle some feathers and
prevent getting cursed with knowledge.


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