They never really told us about this at school but knowledge can be a problem!

How is it possible that the people who have university degrees are also the ones that are often struggling with their careers, while some of the most successful people in business don't have any academic credentials whatsoever?

I've always been fascinated with the idea that unschooled entrepreneurs can attract armies of MBAs to work for them!

And I have also observed that academic capabilities and commercial success tend to balance each other out. There are exceptions to every rule, but many brainy people suck at sales.

Just as Chip and Dan Heath explain in their book "Made to Stick", the 'curse of knowledge' is  usually what gets in the way of convincing others about our ideas.

The book uses a great metaphor to illustrate this counter-intuitive concept by bringing up the example of "tappers and listeners". Here's an extract from the book:

" In 1990, Elizabeth Newington earned a PhD in psychology at Stanford by studying a simple game in which she assigned people to one of two roles:

Tappers received a list of 25 well-known songs, such as "happy birthday to you" and "the Star-Spangled Banner". Each chapter was asked to pick a song and tap out the rhythm to a listener (by knocking on a table). The listener's job was to guess the song, based on the rhythm being tapped.(By the way, this experiment is fun to try at home if there is a good "listener" candidate nearby.")

The listeners job in this game is quite difficult. Over the course of Newton's experiment, 120 songs were tapped out. Listeners guess only 2.5% of the songs: three out of 120. 

But here's what made the result worthy of the dissertation in psychology. Before the listeners guess the name of the song, Newton asked the tappers predict the odds that the listeners would guess correctly. They predicted that the odds were 50%.

The tappers got their message across one time in 40, but they thought they were getting their message across one time into. Why?..."

The thing is that the listeners almost never managed to decipher the song from the (a)rhythmic tapping while the tappers found it impossible to believe that the listeners couldn't recognise the tune they were tapping!

This is a perfect example of the knowledge curse. The tapper has the tune of the song playing in his head while all the listener hears is just a bunch of disconnected taps, like a kind of strange morse code.

This happens all day long in business development! We forget that our prospects aren't necessarily as immersed in our product, service or haven't thought as much about an idea or a problem as we have.

By ignoring the fact that most prospects haven't been on the same journey as we have, we might as well be providing a description of the engineering aboard an alien spaceship.

In addition, a lot of people will pretend that they understand what you are saying. They would do this just to keep up appearances because not everyone has the confidence and/or the rank it takes to call things out as they are. And when they do, many sales people can't help but roll their eyes and sabotage any chances of getting the business in the first place.

I've done this myself on more occasions that I wish to remember, and when it really started to become a problem I decided to go out and learn how to 'speak' body language so I could try to keep those reactions under control. But that is a different subject and another chapter.

Back to the 'knowledge curse'. Most of my friends and family still have no idea about what it is I exactly do for a living so I've had to experiment with metaphors that would make it easier for people outside my niche to understand my craft by using references that resonate more intuitively.

Despite the fact that it sounds kind of weird, it makes more sense to say 'I'm like a scriptwriter for businesses' instead of something more formal like:

"I help businesses attract the attention of their target audience by crafting content that resonates. I then help them transform that attention into a sales cycle that that converts prospects into clients..."

The formal version may sound kind of smart, but it is much easier for people to understand that a scriptwriter crafts stories that people want to spend money on, which is essentially what I want people to know. This should give them enough information to decide whether they want to find out more.

My good friend Ole Rollag of Murano Connect likes to describe his business as 'a dating service for investors and fund managers' and without even having to get into the exact mechanics of his approach, he leaves little doubt about the value he creates with one single breath.

In 'Made to Stick' the Heath brothers come up with other great examples of what they call 'High Concept Pitches' that helped convince film studios to sink millions of dollars into crazy new movie ideas:

'Alien' was pitched as "Jaws on a spaceship" or 'Speed' as "Die Hard on a bus"

The bonus of using catchy intuitive metaphors is that the "Tell me more" also starts with a "Huh?" as well as an "Aha!"

And no matter how you look at it, there is nothing that beats getting attention because of clarity. Wouldn't you agree?

What could be your metaphors? I'd love to hear about it if you care to share them!