In The Brilliant Report: How To Lift The “Curse Of Expertise”

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This week on the Brilliant Blog, one particular number got the attention of a lot of readers. I quoted Ken Koedinger, a professor of human-computer interaction and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, as saying that experts can articulate only about 30 percent of what they know. This is a problem when designing courses, he noted, because the experts creating them often can’t adequately explain what they know to the novice learner.
This phenomenon is called the “curse of expertise,” and it shows up in all sorts of settings—not just the instructor who can’t communicate what she knows to her students, but also the parent helping with homework who can’t get a concept across to his child, the marketer or salesperson who misjudges what customers knows, and the manager who’s frustrated that his employees don’t “get it” more quickly. Here, four practical ways to lift the curse of expertise and share your knowledge effectively with others . . . To read more, please sign up for my newsletter, The Brilliant Report, in the box to the left.—Annie

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2 Responses to “In The Brilliant Report: How To Lift The “Curse Of Expertise””

  1. One thing that strikes me about the “curse of expertise” is that it’s not surprising that experts can only share 30% of what they know. This is mainly due to the fact that the expert sharing what they know in front of a class in a lecture, is probably not how they acquired the knowledge in the first place–of course they won’t be able to share it with anyone in that format.

    If we expect experts to share their knowledge, it should be in a meaningful useful way for both individuals. That’s why people don’t teach construction in a traditional classroom, you would never learn it if they did.

  2. The idea of “Break it down, then break it down again” is an especially powerful one here. Many experts have reached the points where they don’t need to conscoiusly think about all of the steps one needs to take to perform an action successfully–they just do them without mindfulness.

    When our firm does executive coaching, we usually have six months to help someone learn how to do any number of things–many of which sound simple (e.g., “build better relationships across your organization”) but that end up completely overwhelming the learner. They know that they need to get better, but where to start?

    We sometimes talk up about “micro-goals” which I liken to conquering Mount Everest: You need to break that huge goal into a series of base camps along the way. So if you need to build better relationships, what we would do is start with ONE relationship you’d like to improve…. and then start really small–maybe by just asking that person for their advice or opinion on something in which they have expertise. Step by step, we’ve seen people do all sorts of things that seemed impossible to them–tell a compelling story to an audience; make a succinct presentation that resonates with the CEO; be seen as an inspring leader… It’s all one step at a time.

    Looking at things from the learners’ point of view really helps, too. I often try to think of a metaphor or story, for example–if people remember the metaphor or story, they’ll remember the point. Stories in particular trigger an emotional reaction, and if they’re really good the learner will repeat the expert’s story to others.

    Those are a few good ways to “reverse the curse” as we say up here in Red Sox Country!

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