A few years ago, I came across Steven Pinker’s writing on the Curse of Knowledge:
The curse of knowledge is:
…a difficulty in imagining what it is like for someone else not to know something that you know.
The better you know something, the less you remember about how hard it was to learn.
Resulting in unsuccessful communication:
…The curse of knowledge is the single best explanation of why good people write bad prose. It simply doesn’t occur to the writer that her readers don’t know what she knows—that they haven’t mastered the argot of her guild, can’t divine the missing steps that seem too obvious to mention, have no way to visualize a scene that to her is as clear as day. And so the writer doesn’t bother to explain the jargon, or spell out the logic, or supply the necessary detail.
The key is to assume that your readers are as intelligent and sophisticated as you are, but that they happen not to know something you know.
In other words, the communication burden needs to be placed on the knowledge holder, not the receiver.
Around the time I learned of the curse of knowledge, I read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, which is a comic book explaining the power of comic books, not in a superhero power way, but as a visual communication medium. (panel highlights are mine)
It’s also where my journey began, because I started to notice the use of comics to explain complex topics to the rest of us. Not infographics or one-pagers, but full books taking on topics across arts, humanities and STEM.
I was intrigued. I read books on topics both familiar and not. Each book taught me something on visual communication, storytelling/narrative and curse free explanation techniques.
As a plus, I learned a bunch on new topics in a fun, engaging manner.
I just finished Jessica Abel’s terrific Out On the Wire. Judging from the post-it decorated pages, I have a lot of thoughts on this one, which I’ll address in another post. (Intend to address, anyway)
And yes, I’m tinkering with comics/graphic narrative in my explainer work.
In the meantime, a sampling of my reading list:
Comics on comics (meta)