Mentoring and the Curse of Knowledge (Indiana Jones 5)

I am a Computer Information Systems major. This means, in all honesty, that I am a nerd. I love technology and sometimes I tend to babel about it in technical terms to my friends and acquaintances and they have no understanding of what I am talking about. This is the curse of knowledge. I have something interesting (and important?) to share but I have forgotten that others do not have as a deep a background in computing as I do. The first experiments about the curse of knowledge involved tapping simple tunes onto a wooden table. The “tapper” represents the person with knowledge (of the tune) and the listener, known as the “guesser,” would represent the average person. After tapping out 120 different simple tunes (like Happy Birthday), guessers could only guess 3 songs. That is a 2.5% success rate. When tappers were asked to predict the success rate they thought they would have, they guessed 50%. We often think we are better at explaining com ideas. I will give two examples of how the curse of knowledge has stricken me, then one example of how I can overcome it.

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My friends trying to explain coffee to me, who only drinks water.

The first example is from a few weeks ago. My family and I were in the car, on our way to see a movie. I decided to tell them about this really fascinating mathematical/computational experiment in cellular automata that tries to simulate digital life. You can probably already tell by my explanation of it that they did not really understand what I was saying. They nodded and said, “Oh, wow.” But did not really get what I was explaining. Last semester I had a similar experience. I thought I would tell my literature professor about this interesting programming language that is written to look like a Shakespearean play. She smiled and sounded interested as I droned on about declaring variables then incrementing and decrementing them to calculate some values. Again, I could tell she really had no idea what I was talking about.

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Thanos knows what it is to be cursed with knowledge.

In truth, I consider myself to be pretty good at explaining difficult concepts in a simplified way. I have received multiple compliments on it from previous employers and students I have tutored. I have found, however, that if I am excited about a topic and do not approach it with a slow, building pace then I am incapable of explaining anything.

There is a trend on YouTube of these videos where experts explain one concept at various levels.

One personal example of when I explained a concept well was when I taught a skill group at Camp of Champions. During my skill group, I explained different aspects of computing to children ages 5-12. (Here is a website that can do it better than I can). I had to adjust the way I spoke depending on the kids’ ages and understanding. Relating parts of a computer to the parts of the body (like the brain, our memory, etc) only worked well with the older kids. For the younger kids, I had to explain the concepts with examples they would understand. RAM is the thing in a computer that remembers things like sentences I just told them, the Hard drive is what remembers your favorite toys, your friends’ names, and what your house looks like. Albert Einstein said, “The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.” I believe that is the true mark of a genius.

The curse of knowledge is hard to spot when it is happening but easy to see in hindsight. By focusing on my audience I can ascertain whether or not they understand what I am saying, then I can adjust my language. That is my blog and I am sticking to it.