News from the Top

The Curse of Knowledge


Our work has everything to do with leadership. It exists at every level within our organizations, and it is a skill we must continually hone over the years.  When we speak of lifelong learning, I place leadership development among my top subjects.

In the IDA leadership education, we learn or are reminded, about the curse of knowledge. This is the concept where we communicate, often in the short form with vagaries, unknowingly assuming the person we are speaking with has the same background and understanding we have.  We forget not everyone we are communicating with has the same information, background, or frame of reference. It’s like professional jargon.  We all may know what placemaking means, but if we are speaking to anyone outside our industry, the chances are pretty slim that they will have a working knowledge of what we are saying.  It seems basic to us, but for many, it’s wholly new.  This is the curse of knowledge, and to overcome it, we must continually shape our communications with the basic tenants of our topic and be certain to reiterate the core principles for all.

The joy of being a father to young adults, or when you have the opportunity to support a young leader, is the chance to revisit the leadership skills and knowledge you learned long ago. I just had such an experience with my son recently and it was truly wonderful for many reasons. To begin with, I was reminded about the curse of knowledge and therefore knew what to write about this week. However, I was able to see how timeless principles can be reshaped for current times.

I was speaking with my son about Stephen Covey and his extensive work in supporting leadership and success. I realized I often spoke of the concepts taught by Stephen Covey through his younger years, and yet I never truly educated my son on the principles – you may know them, “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.” He indeed found them to be valuable, and it was one of those times when a kid recognized that a parent might actually know a thing or two.  But equally for me, he found a contemporary expression of Covey’s teachings through YouTube using the animated, hand-drawn mini-lectures we often see used today, which summarized hours of cassette tapes (I still have them) into about 30 minutes.

I enjoyed watching the two-part series on YouTube and was rewarded with a short reminder of each principle.  I was thrilled to see the use of current examples to illustrate the principles for emerging leaders of today. I realized 30-year-old stories once relatable for myself, were replaced with things like Facebook. The mere fact my son was learning the same principles from decades past through YouTube was incredible. In all, it was a wonderful example of how sound principles stand the test of time and yet how they can also be reinvented for communicating in current times.

If you are not familiar with Stephen Covey‘s work, I invite you to consider watching these two shorter videos and perhaps, if you like them, continue with more in-depth reading.  If you are familiar with his work and you recall the lesson on how best to plan your time, starting with the end in mind, or seeking win-win negotiations, to name a few, you may consider watching the videos as both a reminder and to see a great illustration of how the timeless nature of good principles can be communicated in creative format for today.  What’s old is new again, and remember that leadership is a lifelong pursuit.

Videos links: Part 1 and Part 2