The Epistemist

…on the knowledge journey

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Awareness and “curse of knowledge”

May 21st, 2008 · No Comments · dissertation, research

A recent discussion at my Doctoral Competency online seminar was about ethics in academic research. One of the students made a great point about  importance of awareness. I agree that we have a fundamental responsibility to have self-awareness – to understand who we are, where we are coming from, and how we may be impacting others. I think this last point is the most difficult of all. We may have the best intentions, and because we know who we are and what we stand for, we sometimes cannot imagine an impact on people who are not like us in some ways. This reminds me of the concept of “curse of knowledge”. Chip and Dale Heath in their book “Made to Stick” are making the point that when we know something, it is very hard to imagine us not knowing it – our background knowledge makes it hard for us to look at the situation from the standpoint of a person who does not have the knowledge. I see it very often in technical world, where engineers struggle to explain something to a non-technical person, because they cannot relate to their frame of reference. The most challenging part of training in a technical support team is to teach people to imagine the situation from the vantage point of the end user; to briefly “unlearn” everything they know about the product they are supporting in order to understand the end user’s question. I believe that in order to be fully aware of the impact we may have on others it is important to be aware of the “curse of knowledge” and actively seek to mitigate it by looking at the situation from the other person’s position – as much as we can.

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