The Curse of Knowledge


Matthias Ott with a great story that starts with him trying to guess songs that his kid claps (spoiler: it’s a losing proposition).

When you have an advance in knowledge over someone else, it can be difficult to recognize this gap and act accordingly. This phenomenon – that we falsely assume that others have the background to understand – is called the curse of knowledge.

The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that can be observed whenever people want to convey information. The readers of your article, the students in your class, the participants of your workshop, the listeners of your podcast, the people at your next meetup, the clients in your conference call, the users of your interface – they all don’t know what you know and are therefore missing context. Always. And while you are confidently talking and explaining like a pro, people actually don’t understand you as well as you would hope.

The Curse of Knowledge · Matthias Ott – User Experience Designer

Even if you know your audience intimately, each conversation should start with setting context. This can take many forms, but it is necessary to establish a foundation from which you make your point. If you don’t start from a shared understanding everything else will be an unnecessarily hard attempt to be understood.