I recently started reading Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. It’s a really interesting look at how to really make ideas and communication “stick”. They explain a study in the 90’s in which a Ph.D. candidate created a simple game. She assigned people one of two roles: tappers and listeners.
Basically, the tappers got a list of simple songs that most of us know: Happy Birthday, The Star-Spangled Banner, Old McDonald, etc. The listeners had to guess what song was being tapped. Simple right?
The tappers anticipated that the listeners would guess the songs correctly 50% of the time when, in reality, they only got it right 2% of the time. The tappers were becoming increasingly frustrated with the listeners. After all, how could you not guess Happy Birthday when tapped out on a table?
They found it was due to “the curse of knowledge”. Once we know something, it’s hard to imagine what it was like to not know it. Because the tappers knew what song they were tapping, they actually heard the song in their head. It was impossible for them not to hear the song when tapping, which made it difficult to understand why
the listener couldn’t figure out the song.
Ah, the curse of knowledge. What seems so completely common sense to us, based on our knowledge or frame of reference, can be perceived so differently from someone else who is looking at the situation from their perspective.
This happens in work, at home, and in every area of our life. If you’ve ever had a conversation with someone and felt completely frustrated because they just didn’t “get it”, you’ve been a tapper. If you’ve been on the other side of the conversation and been frustrated because the other person is completely convinced their right, and you think they’re nuts, it might be because you can’t hear the song in their head.
Are you a tapper? Since you can’t unlearn what you already know, it’s important to take time to hum the tune for others. Be careful not to expect people to automatically know things that seem second nature to you. You’ll spend a lot of time frustrated, and they still won’t get it. What tune will you tap this week?