3 Ideas in 2 Minutes on the Curse of Knowledge
Curse of Knowledge, Creative Incompetence & Concealing Your Talents
I. Curse of Knowledge
Has this ever happened to you? You’ve learned a new skill such as playing chess. It feels like you were the last person on earth to do so. You’ve gotten pretty good at it. But now you can’t even remember what it was like to be completely oblivious about the Game of Kings. Perhaps, when talking to other people, you even treat them as if they knew all about the board game — while they just smile and nod.
You’re under the Curse of Knowledge, a cognitive bias that makes it difficult for us to walk the proverbial mile in someone else’s metaphorical sneakers. We just assume everyone knows what we know. Being cursed with expertise is particularly tricky for teachers. We want them to be both, highly knowledgeable and skilled but also able to cater to students at a myriad of different levels.
I’ve written more about the upsides and downsides of unconscious competence in my latest essay on Four Stages of Competence: How We Learn New Skills.
II. Creative Incompetence
There’s another downside to being wildly good at what you do. You might get promoted. According to the Peter Principle, this happens until you reach your level of incompetence. There’s only one way to escape your fate, which its inventor dubbed Creative Incompetence:
The method boils down to this: create the impression that you have already reached your level of incompetence. You do this by exhibiting one or more of the non-medical symptoms of final placement.
Creative Incompetence will achieve best results if you choose an area of incompetence which does not directly hinder you in carrying out the main duties of your present position.
—Laurence J. Peter, The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong
Possible tactics to avoid being promoted to a position of incompetence include leaving your desk drawer open at the end of a workday, refusing to drink coffee during coffee breaks or bringing your own lunch while everyone else eats out. Mr Peter found the inspiration for his book in his workplace. He was a teacher.
III. Concealing Your Talents
The whole problem seems to be as old as time. Here’s François de La Rochefoucauld pondering on the subject in 17th century France:
It takes great talent or skill to conceal one's talent or skill.
—François VI, Duc de La Rochefoucauld
Have a great week,