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The Curse of Knowledge

31 January 2017

Curse of Knowledge: A Curse of the Founder

When we have a new product, service, idea or business we often struggle to communicate just how good is our offering, why? More than likely it’s because we are suffering from the curse of knowledge, our passion runs high and our clarity runs low. Most famously this afflicts founders the most.

When you are a company founder you are likely to be obsessed with your new enterprise, thoughts will come to you in your sleep, in the shower and in the car, friends will tell you to be quiet because it is all you ever speak about and suddenly events that do not relate to your enterprise that once had value have no meaning at all. This level of focus is terrific to get a business off the ground but it is a curse when it comes to pitching your business idea.

We all have the curse of knowledge hanging over us

This curse is a surprise to many people as the founder is assumed to be the most effective pitcher, they are enthusiastic and seen as the only individual that can carry the idea forward and, it is true the emotional connection the founder feels with the business idea is a huge asset. However, it can also be a liability, founders suffer from not seeing the wood for the trees, from what is known as the ‘curse of knowledge’, a failure to recognise what they know others may not.

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Mark Twain

We all suffer from the curse of knowledge to some degree or another, sit next to any specialist at dinner and ask them what they do and you are likely to see the curse of knowledge in play. The founder is a special case because just when they need to enrol the support of others they are blind to other’s needs, consumed by a once in a lifetime level of intensity and focus.

We all have the curse, sooner you recognise it the sooner it’s lifted.

The challenge for a company founder is to unlearn some of that which is known so they can express their idea in a way that the audience can understand, this means limiting their enthusiasm to one simple problem/solution and using language and a structure that the audience will understand.

Of all the people I have worked with the person most in need of help is the founder.

One way to overcome the curse, start over as though your audience know nothing. Now try explaining your idea.

Recently a new business executive approached me complaining that she didn’t think her audience ‘got it’, got how good her product was and she asked for my thoughts. Like many academically bright people (five languages, three degrees) she had analysed the benefits of the product and enjoyed sharing these with her audience. However, many in her audience had not heard of her product before and receiving a list of benefits failed to move them to action. I suggested taking her audience through just one benefit as a personal experience and evoking an emotional response through a story. Her feedback the next day showed the curse of knowledge had been lifted ‘there was a huge difference…people related to the problem and I felt they understood the story from the beginning’.


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