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The Curse of Knowledge

I hate submitting tax forms.


I don’t hate a lot of things. But this is one of them.


I’ve been submitting tax forms for upwards of two decades and I still hate it. I mostly hate it because year to year I can never remember exactly what my accountant needs from me.


A couple months ago he sent me a “Tax Organizer” – a 37-page-long document of legal jargon that was supposed to tell me what I needed to submit. I know they have to send that – but 95% of it doesn’t apply to me. The problem is that I’m ignorant of what doesn’t apply.


I responded by asking for a simple checklist. “Send me something a kindergartener would understand,” I wrote.


Don’t get me wrong. I love my accountant. He has saved me countless headaches over the years (I got a C- in my freshman accounting course) and I’m so grateful for him and his team.


But it got me thinking about the “curse of knowledge.”


When we are experts in our field (whatever that field may be), it’s really easy to forget that not everyone knows what we know. It’s easy to use vocabulary that’s second nature to us but might as well be Greek to our listeners. It’s easy to assume we’re on the same page when we’re not even reading the same book.


Don’t assume that people know what you know.


In fact, assume they don’t.


Don’t be condescending. That’s unhelpful for other reasons (not to mention disrespectful).


But step into the shoes of your children, your students, your employees. Remember what it was like to be where they are – and then meet them there.


Don’t let the “curse of knowledge” hinder your influence.


Don’t get so far ahead of those you’re leading that they’re left floundering in your wake.


Don’t confuse fancy language with effective communication.


When my accountant finally sent me a checklist of the documents he needed, it took ten minutes to gather it all. He “uncomplicated” it for me - but only because I asked.


Let’s not wait to be asked. Let’s just “uncomplicate” things from the start.

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