"The curse of knowledge." Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it? How much of a curse can knowledge be, after all? Quite a lot, it turns out, if it l
“The curse of knowledge.”
That’s my main takeaway from a book by Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker called The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. Yes, I’m an entrepreneur but I’m a writer first of all so when Pinker weighs in on that craft, and offers a critique about why so much writing today is so hard to understand, I pay attention.
The problem has to do with jargon, Pinker says, and a writer’s inability to imagine what it’s like for someone else to know what they know.
I can relate to this. My business is smack in the middle of two jargon-heavy industries, wine and data. We do, in fact, have experts in both of those fields on our team but it’s easy to see how people (including potential customers) who aren’t as familiar or fluent with either industry-specific language can be turned off, if all we do is communicate in those terms and phrases.
When we first launched Enolytics (our big data company for the wine industry) a few years ago, I suggested to my co-founder that we write a weekly blog post and newsletter. It has since become of the most important things we do, for a couple of reasons.
First, it’s regular, consistent content. As fellow Inc. contributor Carol Sankar writes, “Your audience and potential customers need more forms of engagement with your brand… Articles have an extended shelf life, which has the ability to create a demand for your expertise.”
It’s content that doubles as marketing and communication around our work. Replies or feedback to the posts then serve as a launch pad for lead generation.
That is, in a nutshell, what’s at stake here: increased awareness around the value of our offering. Even if our persistent content production doesn’t always lead to contracts or revenue for our business directly, we want to emphasize an overall positive sentiment toward the concept.
If you find yourself in a similar situation with your own business, where jargon and “the curse of knowledge” erect barriers of communication with your customers, trying starting with a perspective other than your own. Put yourself in your reader’s, or your customer’s shoes instead.
It reminds me of something my mentor Molly O’Neill taught me, when she wrote about food for the New York Times. “Maybe you know all there is to know about flambé and sous vide,” she said, which essentially amounts to her version of Pinker’s “curse of knowledge.” “But all your reader wants to know is what to make for dinner when they get home from work.”
It’s a fair point, and an important lesson about the distance between your expertise and your reader’s (and your customer’s) level of interest or engagement.
The trick, I think, is how to sound like you know what you’re talking about, without also sounding too “out there” or removed from the day-to-day concerns of your customers.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.
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