The Knowledge Curse: When Knowing Too Much Can Hurt You

When is too much knowledge a bad thing? According to Harvard Business blogger Scott D. Anthony, when it causes you to assume that other people know what you do.

Referring to such mindsets as the "knowledge curse," Anthony wrote in a recent post that managers who have worked a long time in the same industry "assume customers know more than they do. This curse can blind managers to opportunities and threats."

To break the knowledge curse, Anthony recommends:

  • 1. Listening to customers: This will help you familiarize yourself with their knowledge base.
  • 2. Work with outside consultants: They will bring in fresh perspectives and come to the table without your same set of assumptions.
  • 3. Be aware of the knowledge curse: "Make a regular habit of asking questions such as, 'Is this our view, or the view of our target customer?'" Anthony advises.
The Curse of Thinking You Know More Than You Do
Another recent article on the Harvard Business site got me thinking that the knowledge curse can work the other way, too. In his post "Do You Really Know What Your Employees Think?", John Baldoni writes about the pitfalls of assuming you know more than you do.

Baldoni says that the majority of managers are good at conveying messages, but not always as good at monitoring what impact the messages have. Similar to Anthony's advice about listening to customers, Baldoni recommends spending time with employees and listening carefully to their feedback. He also suggests conducting communications audits (e.g., online surveys) as a simple and effective way to make sure you know what page employees are on.

The message I took away from both articles was that every so often we should hold our assumptions up to the light and see if they still work. Whether dealing with employees, customers or our personal relationships, this seems like a good way to make sure our knowledge remains an asset, not a curse.

Image courtesy of Flickr user fazen, CC 2.0