When Knowledge Becomes a Curse

By September 7, 2010 culture, faith, language No Comments

High Calling Blogs Book Club Selection

My simple gets trampled on. A lot. By me, myself, and I—and the many words I can’t seem to part with. It’s buried by my inability to be concise.

Authors—and brothers—Chip and Dan Heath give some great excavating advice in their book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, which is the latest High Calling Blogs book club selection. In it they have outlined six common traits of sticky ideas:

By “stick” we mean that your ideas are understood and remembered, and have a lasting impact—they change your audience’s opinions and behavior.1

As a writer, I want my ideas to stick, to inspire, to help, to encourage. I need to heed the Heath brothers’ advice and unearth my simple—which is the first trait of a sticky idea.

Simple, however, isn’t so simple. It gets complex quite quickly. I know this firsthand. My writing projects sink to the bottom of the idea ocean as they become weighted with too much detail because I worry about leaving out some crucial bit of information.

Accuracy to the point of uselessness is a symptom of the Curse of Knowledge.* . . . People are tempted to tell you everything, with perfect accuracy, right up front, when they should be giving you just enough info to be useful, then a little more, then a little more.2

*The Curse of Knowledge: Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Our knowledge has “cursed” us. And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can’t readily re-create our listeners’ state of mind.3

Yes, I am tempted to tell everything in every piece. It is a curse, for who wants to be blasted with that much content?

The solution presented by Heath and Heath was equally simple but utterly true: Use analogies, metaphors, and proverbs. These “derive their power from a clever substitution: They substitute something easy to think about for something difficult.”4 Such ideas are already packed full of information and association, enabling the communicator to say a lot while using fewer words. Ahhh . . . that sounds sublime!

And such methods work. Some of the most remembered analogies, metaphors, and proverbs were ones Jesus used in His teachings. His ideas have stuck quite well.

Jesus didn’t feel burdened to explain every mystery of the universe, although He could have. He focused on the simple that once understood would lead people to seek a little more, and a little more, and a little more . . . until He led them right to the heart of Father God.

That’s what I want to do: Tell enough simple truth to nudge people to seek a little more of God with every word. I need to sit longer at the feet of the Great Teacher to have Him teach me how to hold on to simple for the sake of the Kingdom.

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Read other Made to Stick posts from this week here.

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Sources
1. Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (New York, NY: Random House, 2008), 8.
2. Ibid., 57.
3. Ibid., 20.
4. Ibid., 61.
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