Curse of Knowledge – part 3

I recently hired an exercise trainer for a 60-minute session. When we met, I specifically asked him to observe the routine I was currently doing—about 25 different exercises—give me immediate feedback on style and form, and then tweak the routine by subtracting and adding exercises to insure that I have a balanced regimen. He said he liked the plan, but also wanted to introduce me to some very unique shoulder exercises.

About ten minutes into the session he jettisoned my original plan and spent the next 30 minutes working with me on the intricacies of the shoulders, particularly one muscle that wraps under the armpit. It was more information than I wanted or needed.

I suspect that he had just discovered new information about these obscure muscles (perhaps he learned it at a professional development workshop) and, having been a trainer for 20+ years, he was excited to share what he had learned that was new. But that wasn’t what I wanted or needed.

I’ve been guilty of the same thing. When I’m invited to speak to a group, I have a tendency to share what I’ve recently learned or thoughts I’m still developing. But sometimes that’s not what my audience wants or needs. They may want me to speak on a book I wrote 10 years ago, but I’m weary of those lessons and would rather explore new thoughts.

We might have been victimized by this dilemma in college. We signed up for Psychology 101, hoping to get the basics, but instead the professor focused on his latest research project, even using class resources to that end. (This is why it’s often best for an introductory course be taught by a teaching assistant or at least someone who is happy and excited to teach the basics.)

We should also avoid this tendency (sharing good but unfitting thoughts) in our daily conversations, particularly at work when we’re planning and making decisions. For instance, recently I was part of a discussion at work when I awkwardly interjected what I had recently learned about the spotlight effect. The information didn’t really contribute to the dialogue—it interrupted the dialogue.

This discussion begs the question: What is the proper environment in which to share things we’re discovering and learning? Not everyone needs a setting like this because some people have punched pause on their learning and have nothing new to share. But for those who do, where can we share? I often try to sneak a topic into our family dinner conversations but am accused of being too serious or trying to hijack the conversation. Hmm… 

Wouldn’t it be grand to have a designated time and place in which a small group of curious, intellectually invigorated individuals can talk about “What has become more clear to you?” or, “What thoughts are you intrigued with or struggling with?” 

Perhaps this is the type of gathering that Gertrude Stein facilitated at her Paris salon at 27, rue de Fleurus. Stein, an American novelist, poet, playwright, and art collector, lived in Paris from 1903 until her death in 1946. On Saturday evenings she hosted in her home the most influential and illustrious talents of the era: writers, poets, and artists, including Picasso, Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and Matisse. I can only imagine the stimulating conversations they enjoyed.  

Back to the theme of this post…let’s be thoughtful about when and where we share our most recent thoughts. If we misspeak, our knowledge can impede instead of enhance conversation.

Previous posts on the Curse of Knowledge:

The curse of knowledge syndrome

The curse of knowledge, part 2 – control how much knowledge you share


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