Present Your Ideas: Overcome the 'Curse of Knowledge'

Once you learn something, you lose the ability to remember what it was like to not know it. This is what Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker refers to as "the curse of knowledge," and overcoming it is the key to becoming a better trainer, teacher, and leader. 

Big Think Edge is a video-driven platform that catalyzes happiness and performance in professional environments by cultivating leadership, creativity, and self-knowledge. Learn more about Big Think Edge.

Why is it so hard to give an effective presentation? How can you improve? According to TED curator Chris Anderson, the reason so many of us struggle with teaching, training, and spreading ideas is because we're afflicted with what Harvard psycholinguist (and Big Think expert) Steven Pinker calls "the curse of knowledge." In the following Big Think Edge preview, Anderson explains how rethinking presentations as small journeys will help you better convey messages to an audience:

Pinker's curse to which Anderson refers is based on an idea simultaneously simple and complex: Once you learn something, you lose the ability to remember what it was like to not know it. It's simple because it makes sense; you can't just willingly unknow something. It's complex because its consequences are far-reaching. Like its logical cousin hindsight bias, the curse of knowledge is characterized by memory distortion. And it's due to memory distortion that you fail to empathize with those who don't yet know what you know.

Learning is an organic process. Any big ideas you possess have grown over time from intellectual sprouts. Yet too often when we try to communicate our ideas, we disregard how they came about in the first place. In this way, giving a good presentation is like telling a good joke. You can't just open with the punchline without providing a setup. You don't want to divulge all information at once because your audience won't know what to do with it.

As Anderson explains, ideas are inherently complex and must be transferred step by step. A presentation must therefore take its audience on a journey of idea cultivation. Below are Anderson's three keys to building a strong presentation:

1. Begin the journey at your audience's level.

2. Give the audience a reason to want to go on your journey. Make them curious; make them care.

3. Take them step by step with each little contribution to the idea adding up a little bit so the audience doesn't get lost.

Keep these three items in mind and you'll be on your way to overcoming the curse of knowledge. This is the key to effective teaching, better communication, and the transfer of big ideas. If you want to cultivate knowledge in an audience, it's best to understand how these things grow.

Present Your Ideas: Overcome the "Curse of Knowledge" is available exclusively at Big Think Edge.

Russian robot, promoted as high-tech by state tv, turns out to be a man in a suit

The Russian robot named "Boris" was revealed to be an actor.

Technology & Innovation
  • A state-owned channel showed a report on a "robot" which turned out to be an actor in a suit.
  • The robot "Boris" was supposed to be good at math and dancing.
  • Russian journalists who raised questions ultimately found out the truth.
Keep reading Show less

Study finds heterosexual women prefer benevolently sexist men

It’s been demonstrated that women are more attracted to men with attitudes of benevolent sexism. A new study asks why.

Just relax, young lady. We men can sort you out. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

It’s a minefield: Another new study presents evidence of what heterosexual women want. Still, the lead author of the study is a woman, Pelin Gul. (Her co-author is Tom R. Kupfer.) The study, recently published in Sage Journals, is called “Benevolent Sexism and Mate Preferences: Why Do Women Prefer Benevolent Men Despite Recognizing That They Can Be Undermining?” Previous studies suggest that this happens more often than you’d expect.

Keep reading Show less

Helen Riess, M.D. – Empathy in the brain and the world

Empathy makes us human. Humans make structures that rob us of empathy when we need it most. Helen Riess is trying to reverse that trend.

Think Again Podcasts
  • Heart – mind = emotional quicksand. Mind – heart = greeting card sympathy
  • The doctor burnout epidemic and how to fix it
Keep reading Show less