Do you suffer from this leadership curse?
I was talking with a friend recently about his recent experience interviewing with a company in an executive level role. As part of the interview process, he spent an afternoon with the CEO he’d be reporting to along with the CEO’s other direct reports.
When they opened the floor up to him for questions he began by asking one question, but posed it to each individual in the room: “What would you say is the purpose here?”
Each individual tried to answer, but it felt like they were stringing words together right on the spot. And each individual’s answer was different from the one before them. My friend knew what he was doing, and he began to sense the CEO was getting frustrated with the different answers.
They made it almost all the way around the room when the CEO interrupted, and angrily said, “No! That’s not it at all. I thought we’ve gone over this. Our purpose is to…..” and then he ran through what had apparently been defined as their purpose statement.
He was pretty upset with his team for not remembering what was supposed to be an important statement. The problem was that he should have been upset with himself. If his team didn’t know the purpose statement the way he wanted them to, sadly that was on him.
Unfortunately, he suffered from “the curse of knowledge.” He had spent so much time crafting the statement that he knew it in his head backwards and forwards. He had likely shared it with his team with a grand announcement in one meeting. And because he had spent so much time with it he assumed that announcing it one time would be enough for his team to know it, remember it and instill it.
That’s the problem with the curse of knowledge. When you have so much knowledge around something you’ve created, you forget how little knowledge everyone else has around it. They don’t know it like you do. They don’t remember it like you do. They don’t care about it like you do. But they can if you give them what they need.
When you think about it, the curse of knowledge is really a lack of self-awareness. And when you suffer from it you’re not aware of the gap between what’s in your mind and what’s in others' minds.
Don’t think that this curse is rare. I’ve seen it happen to so many leaders throughout my career. It’s even happened to me. It could be a town hall, a staff meeting, an offsite, a video announcement - someone will share their new big idea, their vision, their annual strategic objectives, their core tenets. But three months later, the majority of people don’t even recall what was said.
So how do you defeat this curse? Over-communicate.
Or at least think that you’re over-communicating. Because it’s actually pretty difficult to really over-communicate according to Andy Stanley. He says that a leader’s vision doesn’t automatically stick. It actually leaks - kind of like a bucket with a hole in it. So you have to keep refilling that bucket to make sure your vision does stick.
Your people are busy. Your people are distracted. Your people are trying to juggle and prioritize everything they hear. They’re going to forget what you say. But not because they’re ignoring you and not because they want to forget. It just happens. So they need reminders, and they need them frequently.
When leaders have the curse of knowledge one of the biggest mistakes they make when they craft a big idea for their team is to share their big idea only one time. But no matter who you are, no matter your role and title, your big idea communication can’t be a one-and-done announcement.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve said it already. You have to say it multiple times, exponentially multiple times. You’ve got to drop the hammer on the repetition gas pedal and not let up.
In order for you to make your idea stick you have to repeat it ad nauseam. If you didn’t take Latin in high school, ad nauseam means “referring to something that has been done or repeated so often that it has become annoying or tiresome.” But we forget how annoying or tiresome some things can be to other people. We assume people are tired of hearing something as much as we’re tired of saying it. But that’s actually not the case.
When you want to make your idea stick and you repeat it ad nauseam, you need to keep repeating it until you’re the one who’s sick and tired of hearing it. And at that point, it simply means that you’ve only started repeating it enough. When you’re sick and tired of hearing it, you’re about halfway done with how much you need to repeat it.
Then you can let off on the repetition gas pedal, but just a little bit.
Now that you understand both the curse of knowledge and how to defeat it, there are no excuses. The next time you want your people to recall your big idea, remember that it’s not their fault if they don’t. It’s yours. Good thing you know how to help them.
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