The Curse of Knowledge

When I’m reading an interesting book, I drive my wife crazy by quoting bits and snatches to her (this is just one weapon, of course, in my drive-my-wife-crazy repertoire). Lately I’ve been doing it with the book Made to Stick.

Find this book. Read this book. Anyone who shares ideas with other people could benefit from reading this book.

One concept used throughout the book is the concept of The Curse of Knowledge. The authors illustrate this problem in the following excerpt:

In 1990, Elizabeth Newton earned a Ph.D. in psychology at Stanford by studying a simple game in which she assigned people to one of two roles: “tappers” or “listeners.” Tappers received a list of twenty-five well-known songs, such as “Happy Birthday to You” and “The StarSpangled Banner.” Each tapper was asked to pick a song and tap out the rhythm to a listener (by knocking on a table). The listener’s job was to guess the song, based on the rhythm being tapped. (By the way, this experiment is fun to try at home if there’s a good “listener” candidate nearby.)
The listener’s job in this game is quite difficult. Over the course of Newton’s experiment, 120 songs were tapped out. Listeners guessed only 2.5 percent of the songs: 3 out of 120.
But here’s what made the result worthy of a dissertation in psychology. Before the listeners guessed the name of the song, Newton asked the tappers to predict the odds that the listeners would guess correctly. They predicted that the odds were 50 percent. The tappers got their message across 1 time in 40, but they thought they were getting their message across 1 time in 2. Why?
When a tapper taps, she is hearing the song in her head. Go ahead and try it for yourself — tap out “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It’s impossible to avoid hearing the tune in your head. Meanwhile, the listeners can’t hear that tune — all they can hear is a bunch of disconnected taps, like a kind of bizarre Morse Code.

There are lots of good points in this book, but this one jumped out at me. It’s so hard to put ourselves in the shoes of those who don’t know what we know. Have you ever tried to explain the gospel to someone who knew nothing about the Bible? Have you ever tried to tell the message of salvation without using church words?

Sometimes I think we’re preaching “Amazing Grace,” but the world hears “Happy Birthday.”

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