Friday, January 12, 2007

The Curse of Knowledge and Language!

My thoughts on Gautam’s recent post on the curse of knowledge.

I myself have often encountered situations wherein I've got a little enthusiastic and come up with something I can't seem to articulate clearly to others. My experience tells me that if you get a little more creative and think of an appropriate may be easier to communicate with - convey the message to - others. I believe that analogies are simply wonderful and we need to make as much use of them as possible. And I think the more you use analogies, the easier it becomes for you to ‘find’ them. Analogies do not necessitate the use of exhaustive language as the listener, once triggered off, can do most of the thinking and visualization of the links by herself!

Coincidentally, one of my friends, some time back, brought to my notice two articles which I now realize are related to this topic. These may give us more food for thought.


One of them is an article in HBR by Chip Heath and Dan Heath - called ‘the curse of knowledge’ - wherein the authors refer to an interesting research. The researchers asked people to tap a well known song’s tune on a table and asked someone to listen to the tapper and identify the song. The tapper thought the listener would easily recognize the song for it was popular but the success rate was something like 2.5%. In the authors own (and better) words…

“When a tapper taps, it is impossible for her to avoid hearing the tune playing along to her taps. Meanwhile, all the listener can hear is a kind of bizarre Morse code. Yet the tappers were flabbergasted by how hard the listeners had to work to pick up the tune. The problem is that once we know something—say, the melody of a song—we find it hard to imagine not knowing it. Our knowledge has “cursed” us. We have difficulty sharing it with others, because we can’t readily re-create their state of mind.”

PS: The authors go on to build a case for storytelling and how it can enforce effective communication in organizations.


The second one is a blog post by Dave Pollard on thinking without language. Well, this one points out how we originally thought without the aid of language and why language-based thinking may be constraining us in many ways.


Summing up…connecting the dots…methinks….[now, it may turn out to be a curse of blogging….that you’ve to read such summaries as well. ;)]

We can think without the aid of language. We, certainly, can. Language is only for communication and maybe with our own subconscious mind at times. But a picture may be worth a thousand words as we have oft been told. Why so? Pictures normally evoke emotions, not language. That’s why we sometimes use words/phrases like ‘speechless’, ‘dumb-struck’, ‘words fail me’ etc. Emotions cannot be expressed/communicated. Proves that emotions are different from plain thoughts and do not lend themselves easily to language (heart-based vs mind-based thinking?).

Replace analogies with stories in my earlier suggestion for explaining something effectively. Storytelling evokes emotions and may therefore be easier as a communication tool. If language (stories) that tries to connect with a person’s emotions works well, then methods that evoke stronger emotions are those that are more effective, eh? Jump. That’s why I love creative and ‘true’ advertising campaigns which are typically a combination of a story, pictures (still, moving or real-time) and a core message. Not to forget, this is the reason why good movies have a lasting or at least temporary influence on us. Does that connect at least a few dots for you or does it leave you with a clean slate/blank mind? :D

Don’t blame me if the dots are not connected. Language (or rather lack of it) prevents me from explaining it better. :D.

I can perhaps think of a picture to explain this (a mind map?). And yes, this post is anyway intended to read like a ‘story’…..

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