How Well Do You Convey Your Expertise to the World?
In a story by Naomi Karten she comments that the label of expert carries some responsibility to share that expertise. This pretty much resonates with two facets of being an expert—one is having knowledge and skills that makes one an expert, and the other is being viewed as an expert by others.
The distinction between these two facets is important. James Bach, in his popular video about Becoming a Software Testing Expert, talks about an expert software tester as "someone who is very good at testing" and "someone who is considered to be an expert." Expertise does require acceptance by others, and to make it happen requires presenting ideas in the right manner to an audience that matters.
Garr Reynolds, the author of Presentation Zen, commented about technical presentations in a blog post—"Long before ‘death-by-powerpoint,’…there were bad presentations. Really bad presentations." While it can be argued that not all technical presentations are bad, there will be a fair consensus on the statement that most of the technical presentations are not of a high standard. Why is that so?
In their book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, the Heath brothers explain the concept of the Curse of Knowledge. As explained in the book, the Curse of Knowledge can be described as:
Lots of research in economics and psychology shows that when we know something, it becomes hard for us to imagine not knowing it. As a result, we become lousy communicators. Think of a lawyer who can’t give you a straight, comprehensible answer to a legal question. His vast knowledge and experience renders him unable to fathom how little you know. So when he talks to you, he talks in abstractions that you can’t follow. And we’re all like the lawyer in our own domain of expertise.
While most experts remain focused on enhancing the skills that make them unparalleled in the subject of their choice, some of the experts do suffer from the Curse of Knowledge. For example, in the process of gaining more and more knowledge, the experts tend to forget what it is like not knowing that very subject—and for the most part, the Curse of Knowledge prevents their relaying their expertise to the world. Knowing how it feels to be ignorant helps experts connect deeply with the audience interested in their work.
Steve Jobs was widely considered to be a design expert. He had a knack for conveying his design thinking rather simply. He once said, “We made the buttons on the screen look so good you’ll want to lick them.” This is an example of an expression that’s so simply put but still very well explains the essence of attention to detail that went into Jobs’ design thinking. This is an example of knowledge being used as a blessing not a curse.