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The downside of 10k hours experience

Posted by Meg Bear on March 27, 2009


homer-simpson-wallpaper-brain-10242I’m sure you know that many of us at TalentedApps have been looking for ways to incorporate deliberate practice into our work.  This makes sense, given the number of years that we have been working in this field.   A practical recommendation from our research arm, was that we read Made to Stick.   

Reading this book had an “a ha” moment for me around concept called “The curse of knowledge“.  In a nutshell, the curse of knowledge suggests that when you know too much about something you often are bad at explaining it to others

My husband has this problem with skiing, he is way too good to comprehend what beginners struggle with (fear, balance, skill).   This lead to establishing a personal policy to never attempt to learn a sport from someone you sleep with.  If you don’t have a similar policy, you might consider adopting mine.  You’re relationship will be better for it (and so will your sports-abilities).

I don’t tend to experience the curse of knowledge as much when explaining concepts, but I do have it in spades when I make decisions.  Here is my issue, most of the time I have no idea why a specific decision is the right one.  I just know.  I know that might sound arrogant to some, but honestly I don’t mean it that way.

I’m not really a numbers person, but somehow my brain that does a frighteningly rapid number of calculations (usually without bothering to involve me) when presented something that impacts my products.  I’ll give you an example:

For sake of discussion, lets say someone named Amy, comes to me with an idea for the product  “we should do X in Y release“.  

My brain immediately kicks in and does something wacky — it calculates weather patterns, team skillsets, technology options, performance considerations, regional holiday schedules, religious preferences, flight risks, team career aspirations, political barriers, organizational strengths/bureaucracies, horoscopes, release schedules, etc. and comes back with essentially one of three possible answers.  It is at this point it will let me in on the process (I guess it figures I can’t screw it up from there).  My three answers look something like this:

  • Wont Work
  • Might Work (but risky)
  • Will Work (if)

Here is where the curse of knowledge kicks in.  I will respond to Amy’s suggestion with the answer no, yes or maybe. 

As you can imagine the yes and the maybe don’t get me into too much trouble, but the no answer is a mess.  You’d think it might occur to me to explain why I say no.  You’d think I’d want to let people in on my decision process, so that they also conclude that no is the right answer

The problem is I don’t really know myself, or at least I can’t explain why I know.  Instead, I tend to channel my best teenager and do the adult equivalent of the big-sigh + eye-roll. 

Truth is, I just want everyone to trust the mechanics of my brain.  Experience has proven to me that it’s way smarter than I am, and really should not be questioned.  I am not exaggerating when I say that I have required up to three days to put into words (that make any sense) the why for one of these “wont work” responses.

Now that I know about this curse, I will hopefully be more empathic about the need to understand the why.  I can’t say it will take away the sigh, but hopefully it will help me have the patience to figure out and explain the calculation

I’m guessing, it might also allow others to have confidence in the decision.  Seems worth a shot anyway.

6 Responses to “The downside of 10k hours experience”

  1. Noons said

    Now, put yourself in the shoes of a very experienced dba who has to answer an OCP or similar certification multiple choice question.
    For which he/she knows there are at least three correct answers and NONE of them is one of the choices…

  2. Amy Wilson said

    Ahh, yes, and this is why I deliberately practice THE FILTER. When people say, “no,” I hear “maybe.” Maybe if the weather changes or the stars align differently.🙂

  3. Jim said

    Ohhhhh! I’m DYIN’ to know what the ‘X’ is!!!! 🙂

  4. Meg Bear said

    @Noons – oh yes indeed I feel your pain
    @Amy – yours really is a very happy world😉
    @Jim — you absolutely are…

  5. […] Without positive feedback on my products, I get a bit cranky and depressed.  When positive feedback comes, I feel joy and purpose.  I can’t really imagine being in a job where I don’t get that kind of recognition, since it really sustains me.  This is probably why I’ve kept at this job for such a long time. […]

  6. […] in what defines a talent solution.  Initially I thought it was just my own personal boredom with having done this for so long, but now I realize that what I have really been doing is a lot of thin slicing to get to the most […]

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