The Curse of Knowledge and how desperately you need simplification

We all have that colleague at work, the guy who tend to build very long sentences — over 20 words — , using strange terminology to deliver his messages not once or twice, almost every single time. The easiest path is either tagging him with ‘genius’ or ‘weirdo’ but I believe we can do better than that.

You may have not realized but you likely suffer from the same curse if you’ve spent over 10,000 hours in a single topic. In this post, I will try to explain the relationship between knowledge and communication.

Let’s start with some facts.

  1. According to research by the American Press Institute when the average sentence length in a piece was fewer than eight words long, readers understood 100 percent of the story. Even at fourteen words, they could comprehend more than 90 percent of the information. But move up to 43-word sentences, and comprehension dropped below ten percent. If you are dealing with non-native English speakers, the figures are dramatically lower
  2. The average person is spending 55 percent of their day on active listening
  3. The average person remembers seventeen percent of the words they heard
  4. Your words are conveying only seven percent of your messages, remaining 93 percent is being delivered via facial expressions and tone.
  5. In 2000, the attention span of an average person was twelve seconds, today it’s less than 8.25 seconds and it’s going to get worse
  6. Newton’s tapper-listener experiment is another great research underlining the importance of simplicity. While most people believe 50% of their tappings are easy-to-understand, in real life it’s just 2.5%, always remember, the song is playing only in your mind, and people can’t read minds
Complex Learning Curve


Let’s say you’re working on a report related to your job. If you’ve invested over 10,000 hours on it (meaning 10 years of experience in your job), most probably, you’re on the right side of the curve. Over-Learning is a very isolating environment because you’re failing to deliver most of your messages.

  1. Most of the relevant messages in your mind are irrelevant for your peers if they are not as experienced as you are
  2. Every single time, you need to walk down from the mountain of knowledge and tell your story if you want to be successful, simple analogies are often helpful
  3. The worst part; most of the people are not going to ask for more saying “sorry, can you explain?” instead, they will just pretend and do head gestures as if they understand
  4. One of the obvious signs of the curse of knowledge is over usage of acronyms

Becoming expert matters and it definitely deserves respect but unless you achieve the level of simplicity required to share your knowledge, it’s just not good enough. Management can be a high leverage activity only if you can influence others in your environment.

This article first appeared on Medium.