Ever try to lead your team to do something…and find them looking back at you with a kind of glazed look?  Like they were in a trance?  Or maybe, they all were nodding their heads in a agreement but later you realized that they had no idea what you meant when you were talking about "taking the hill" or "staying the course".  Maybe it has to do with what Made to Stick refers to as The Curse of Knowledge.

The curse of knowledge?  Yes.  Here’s the idea.  Once you’re an expert you slip over to abstractions and shortcuts.  You forget what it’s like to be figuring out what to do…and instead you talk about things in a kind of shorthand language.  Once you’re an expert you tend to adopt grand phrases that sound elegant but are too abstract for your team to really understand exactly what it means.  What it means, for instance, to actually win the game you’re playing.

One example that authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath use is that of the difference between biology students and biology teachers.  One is quite capable of discussing animal taxonomy systems and the other is just trying to remember whether reptiles lay eggs or not!

So…how then can we learn to speak in a way that our team actually understands?  We need to learn to be as concrete as we can about what it is that we’re trying to do.  Interestingly, the authors of Made to Stick have referenced Saddleback Sam as an illustration.  In the early days of Saddleback Church they developed a very clear description of the kind of person they were trying to reach…and they named him Saddleback Sam.  That idea, clearly describing who they’re trying to connect with, has enabled a crystal clear understanding of what a win is.  And that is one of the most important elements of stickiness.

Do you have that in your arsenal?  Or are you stuck in abstraction? 

The Curse of Knowledge