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This mental block – the Curse Of Knowledge can restrict your growth !

What is the Curse of Knowledge ?

A couple of days back, in a discussion with a friend about system improvement at his current firm, he asked me a question – 

“Why do some of the top and exceptionally qualified professionals miss some very visible issues ?” 

It was an interesting question and led me to think for a moment. I told him about this mental block called “the curse of knowledge”.  

“Remember how sometimes we are so involved and focussed on a particular thought that we cannot even see something that is right before our eyes.” 

He nodded. 

“That is the same principle at work here. When you know deeply about something, any outlier from our usual knowledge is too out of the way to be seen.”

Example of Curse of Knowledge – from my engineering days

During my engineering, I came out confidently after an exam having solved an exceptionally tricky problem. When I discussed with others, I confidently told them the approach I took and then the answer was 100 cm. Everyone started laughing to my surprise. Many of them had nailed the problem in a similar fashion, but to my surprise, they had all gotten the wrong answer – 1 cm. 

Until I realized, that I was the one with wrong answer. Off by 2 decimal places. In fact, in the context of the problem, a simple common sense could have rejected the 1 cm answer. 

This is exactly what “Curse of Knowledge” is – Application of logic without cross-validation with common sense. 

Knowledge is Power – Knowledge without Common Sense is Curse

We all want to achieve greatness, to reach the pinnacle of success in our chosen fields. We strive to be knowledgeable and to increase our understanding of the world around us. 

It is frequently remarked that “knowledge is power” and to a large extent, it is true as well. Knowledge helps us execute our tasks quicker, and with lesser errors making us fitter to survive and thrive in the competitive world. 

The Curse of Knowledge is the mental block that can occur when we have learned something to the point that it becomes second nature. We no longer need to think about it and so it becomes a part of our subconscious. This can be a great asset, as it allows us to focus on more complex tasks. But, it can also be a major hindrance, as it prevents us from seeing the bigger picture and understanding the nuances of a given topic.

Unsurprisingly, the curse of knowledge would occur most frequently with highly qualified experts. 

When we become too comfortable with what we already know, we can become resistant to change and new ideas. We may be reluctant to explore new topics or to branch out and try something different. This can be problematic, as it can prevent us from developing our skills and expanding our knowledge base. It can also limit our potential, as we may be missing out on opportunities that could benefit us in the long run.

4 ways to break the Curse of Knowledge 

1. Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

It’s easy to become comfortable with the knowledge you already have, but the only way to really expand your knowledge is to push yourself out of your comfort zone and explore new topics and ideas. Don’t be afraid to take up a new hobby, learn a new language, or explore a different field. 

A knowledge of a new function can force you to see the your function from a different perspective and is effective in breaking the curse.

2. Seek different opinions and perspectives

It’s ok to ask for help when you’re stuck. Don’t be afraid to reach out to experts in the area you’re stuck in, or even to friends and family who might have a different perspective. It can be a great way to open up new possibilities and gain new insights.

Most importantly, listen to your critics – they may be right sometimes ! 

3. Challenge Yourself

A great way to break through the curse of knowledge is to challenge yourself. Take on projects or tasks that are outside of your area of expertise and push yourself to learn something new.

4. Take a Break

Taking a break from your usual routine can be a great way to alleviate the mental block and open up new possibilities. Take a vacation, explore a new city, or just take a day off to relax and clear your head.

With the above methods, you can successfully break the curse of knowledge and display better decision making at work and in life. 

Finally, I would say – Hold Strong Beliefs – but hold them Loosely ! 

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