All comments posted on this blog do not reflect the opinions of any organization that I am affiliated with. These are my personal perspectives only.

Friday, March 6, 2009

E2.0 Evangelism & The Curse of Knowledge

Have you ever been in a presentation, where the speaker was obviously an expert but they just couldn't convey their ideas to the audience leaving them confused and uninspired?

In the past, I've written about the challenges of being an expert. Expertise can limit our ability to be radically creative and open to suggestion causing us to miss opportunities for disruptive innovation. There has been some great research in this area by William Torbert and David Rooke that looks at "experts" in the context of one of the seven ways people lead. Here is a quotation from their HBR Article, "Seven Transformations of Leadership"

"Experts are great individual contributors because of their pursuit of continuous improvement, efficiency, and perfection. But as managers, they can be problematic because they are so completely sure they are right. They will frequently treat the opinion of people less expert than themselves with contempt."

"Expertise" has several implications to the social computing world, including the long-tail value of "non-experts", self-organization, and creating a collaboration culture. In this post however, I thought I'd talk to the specific challenges expertise has on our ability to communicate and inspire.

The term "curse of knowledge" is one I borrowed from the Heath brothers, Chip and Dan who put out the very popular book, "Made to Stick: Why some ideas survive and others die". It's a great book, and quite practical. In their research, they examine why some concepts (even completely false ones) are memorable and others are forgotten (even the best, most innovative ideas).

Chip & Dan demonstrate through examples how the more you know, the harder it is to "not know" or remember what it was like to not understand. An experts' communications can become crammed with details that the casual recipient either doesn't understand, doesn't care about, or will soon forget anyways due to information overload.

For those trying to promote a culture of collaboration, and the adoption of Enterprise 2.0 technology, we can become victims of our own knowledge. Sometimes this manifests itself as a laundry list of different technologies, often accompanied by a list of technical terms and a series of acronyms. Sometimes we drive into extreme detail on theory and academic research. Sure, to other social computing enthusiasts the concept of weak ties and centrality in social networks may be fascinating but will this win over the masses?

So what would Chip & Dan recommend to E2.0 evangelists looking to create a compelling message that is "sticky"? Well, they summarize the key principles of memorable messages in the acronym SUCCES.

Simple — find the core of any idea. Focus on that.
Unexpected — grab people's attention by surprising them
Concrete — make sure an idea is real and not too theoretical
Credibility — give an idea believability allow people to test it themselves.
Emotion — help people see the importance of an idea by tapping emotions
Stories — Stories are great ways to achieve all above.

I try to incorporate these principles when crafting communications, to help inspire folks around the potential of social computing and collaboration. Hopefully it'll help you too. If you have stories that have worked for you I'd love to hear them!


Nimmy said...

I've been subconsciously adopting some of these ideas from the time I started off as a KM practitioner partly because it fits in with my own areas of interest and approaches. It definitely works. The degree of success depends on how much of walking the talk we do...! I'd like to also point out that integrating the Tipping Point concepts makes this an even better proposition...communication, championing and contextual ideas.

Anonymous said...

I would like to share a story from my consulting experience. Many years ago after we had just formed Gellman Hayward we discovered a fellow, Bob Schaffer, who seemed to know alot about the consulting process and we invited him to do a workshop to the all of our consultants. When he saw how young some of them were he was a bit taken aback.
However he said that he would know he was reaching the people if they said "he is not saying anything new but just in a different way."
The day at the morning break in the washroom I heard someone say those exact words.
I think when people give us praise for a great presentation, they are really separating themselves from the ideas.
The chances of retaining or using things when you leave a workshop on a high is very low but gives the presenter a big rush.
Staying within the readiness of the audience is not as good for the ego but I think is far more effective. What do you think?

Andrew said...

Great post, and great book. Introducing social computing platforms - like any technology, process, etc - requires good communication and lots of communication, but timing and context are also important. I might break this down in to a few phases where "sticky" messages might be crafted and pushed:

1. Understanding - helping people to understand the need for a new network. This can be done by highlighting opportunities or by highlighting problems with the old way.

2. Envisage - communicate the vision for the application.

3. Motivate - communications that will create a sense of urgency and appetite for adopting the new.

4. Consolidate - celebrate successes and communicate other metrics of new initiative.

Stephanie Barnes said...

Great post, I like the SUCCES acronym. In the end it comes down to understanding where people are and meeting them there, not demanding that they meet you where you are; something that is easier said than done sometimes.