The Curse of Knowledge

Ketut Sulistyawati
Farmacare Crew
Published in
3 min readFeb 7, 2021

Have you been in a situation, where you couldn’t really understand what the presenter is talking about because he is using lots of jargons or concepts you are not familiar with?

Or are you that presenter? Then you are cursed.
As Chip and Dan Heath wrote in Made to Stick: “Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it.”

The Tapper and The Listener

In her experiment, Psychologist Elizabeth Newton split people up into two groups — tappers and listeners. Tappers chose a song from a list of 25 common tunes (think “Happy Birthday,” “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”) and then tapped out the song’s rhythm. Listeners had to guess the song.

Out of 120 songs tapped, only 2.5% were guessed correctly. However, the tappers believed that their listeners would guess the song correctly about 50% of the time. It was nearly impossible for the tappers to unheard the song in their had as they tapped, and could not imagine how come the listeners could not hear the some from the rhythm.

The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, communicating with other individuals, unknowingly assumes that the others have the background to understand.

How to break the curse

Acknowledge it

The first step of overcoming the curse is to acknowledge that it exists. Be aware that other people may not know what you know, and that you may need to change the way you communicate depending on whom you are talking to.

Get fresh perspectives

Get your idea, product, pitch deck, or communication materials in front of new people or new users to get the perspective of fresh eyes who encounter your stuff for the first time. Can they understand you right away? What information do they need to understand it faster? What questions do they have?

In Farmacare, we do this with getting every new employees to try our product, and test our product and communication materials with different sets of new users.

Image by CommunicateHealth

Tailor to your target audience

Find out who are your target audience, and how familiar are they with the concept you are presenting to them. If you are presenting to niche customers with specialized skill set, like pharmacists, you don’t need to water down our language on pharmaceutical concepts, but you may need to tone down when sharing about tech or business concepts. On the other hand, when talking to investors, you don’t need to share much the financial fundamentals, but may need to give a bit more intro into the pharma industry.



Ketut Sulistyawati
Farmacare Crew

an experience designer / live and work from bali / founder at