In their 2007 classic, Made to Stick, authors Chip and Dan Heath cite an experiment conducted in 1990 by Dr. Elizabeth Newton, PhD. The experiment was the study of a simple game. Subjects were given one of two roles: “tappers” and “listeners.” The tappers received a list of 25 common song names such as “Happy Birthday” and “Star Spangled Banner” and asked to tap out rhythm of the song (by tapping on a table) to the listener who was asked to guess the song’s name. When the tappers were shown the list and asked beforehand to estimate what percentage of the songs their listeners would guess correctly, they estimated that listeners would correctly identify the song 50% of the time. The results proved otherwise.
Only 2.5% of the listeners were able to correctly identify the song that was tapped. Tappers thought they would accurately communicate 1 out of 2 times. The fact was that they only got their message across 1 out of 40 times.
Why? Chip and Dan Heath refer to this phenomenon as “The Curse of Knowledge.” Tappers knew and heard the songs in their heads as they were tapping out the rhythm. Because they had a pre-set frame of reference, they couldn’t easily recreate the listener’s state of mind. Tappers tapped away assuredly but listeners only heard random tapping gibberish.
We see this happen in our world every day as politicians, teachers, artists, clergy, and business people attempt to reach others with their messages. They have so much internal knowledge of their subject matter that the messages they are “tapping” out in their speeches, brochures, and sales pitches are coming across as disjointed noise. And, they simply can’t understand why their listeners and their customers aren’t getting it.
The solution? The Heath brothers suggest that we transform our ideas into messages that make sense to people who do not have our frame of reference. However, this can be quite difficult if not impossible sometimes. After all, you know what you know, and its tough to remove yourself from your own knowledge. I might suggest you consider looking to the outside for help. Marketing Communications firms like Force 5 have expertise in crafting your message without an overly detailed frame of internal reference. We’re ready to do the “tapping” that makes sense to your audience. Just give us a call.