The Real Secret to Overcoming the Curse of Knowledge

The curse of knowledge

“Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Our knowledge has “cursed” us. And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can’t readily re-create our listeners’ state of mind.”- Chip & Dan Heath, Made to Stick.

As your business grows and evolves, your knowledge deepens. You learn more about what you do best and why your customers choose you, as well as what they really care about.

So naturally there comes the time where the words on your website no longer reflect who you are or even what you do on a daily basis. If you’re an innovator or working in a fast-paced innovative space this might happen frequently.

This is usually when my clients sit down, often for weeks on end, working to get the right words out of their heads and into their web copy. They soon start spinning circles in their head; “What do I leave in? What do I leave out? What about our USPs?”

It may seem counterintuitive but the more you know about something, the harder it is to communicate it clearly and concisely. Which is a real problem in a distracted world like ours where you have just seconds to make an impression.

If you’re struggling to distill your ideas or simplify your web copy, then the following steps will help you gain clarity.


You’re deeply passionate about what you do and you can write reams about it, but the person you’re writing for is also deeply passionate. They care deeply about many things; their lives, their bank balance, getting through that to-do list. You can’t force them to care about you or to trawl through 1000’s of words, but you can meet them at their point of entry. Just like when you’re trying to persuade your other half to go snowboarding instead of heading for some winter sun, you start from where they are. You don’t rave about the skiing, you make the case for mountain sunshine, saunas and après-ski! You know how to do this naturally. So use that natural skill to your advantage.


You’ve probably heard of the inverted pyramid of journalism? This simply means that you prioritise the most important idea in your writing and stay on point. So, before you begin, decide what you really want your readers to know. Can you boil this down to two or three messages? Now, try and distil those messages into 140 characters or the length of a Tweet. Better yet, open up Twitter and then try and do it. Something about that negative character count is seriously motivating.


Insider language and technical jargon will never grab your audience in the way that simple, concrete and emotive language does. Take the brilliant example of JFK’s mission to put a man on the moon, from Chip & Dan Heath’s book ‘Made to Stick’. As they point out, if JFK were an aerospace CEO he would have said: "Our mission is to become the international leader in the space industry through maximum team-centered innovation and strategically targeted aerospace initiatives." His actual call to action? It was to, "put a man on the moon and return him safely by the end of the decade." Can you feel the difference?


No matter how well you write and how clear your thinking, you need someone else to look at your web copy with fresh eyes. Ideally it will be someone outside of your immediate world, perhaps a business coach, a non-exec director or a copywriter. But don’t skip this part. I never publish anything without having someone else review it first.

The fact is, everyone suffers from the curse of knowledge. There’s always one hundred different ways to write the same sentence and never, ever, one ‘right’ way. So even if you’re not sure that you’re on the right track, don’t let it hold you back. As Seth Godin is famed for saying, you’ll learn all you need to know by shipping, by getting your message out there and gathering feedback. The real secret to overcoming the curse of knowledge is simply listening to our customers. After all, we may not be able re-create our listeners’ state of mind, but we can all become better listeners.

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