Writing this article was a big struggle for me. At first I couldn’t think of a good topic. Every idea seemed dumb or too simplistic. Why? Because for every topic, I can think of places on the Internet to find that information already, or I know I have talked about it so much that no one could possibly be interested. For example, I wrote half an article on PowerShell, why it is so important, some of the core commands everyone should know, all of that stuff. Then I yanked the piece of paper out of my typewriter, wadded it up, and threw it at my trashcan like I was trying to win the NCAA tournament. (I won in case you were curious.) Why write such an article when everyone already knows all of that?
But does everyone know that? In reality that isn’t true. Almost no one knows PowerShell, and if they do, it is only a casual relationship. Of the thousand-plus people I have asked, less than 1% of them claim to be “awesome” with PowerShell. So why do I think my article is dumb? The curse of knowledge is why.
The curse of knowledge is a psychological thing (“thing” being a technical term) where people tend to struggle with the idea that someone doesn’t know something they do. Think about it this way: How do you upload a document to a SharePoint document library? Instantly your brain snaps to that process. How simple is that? For you it’s beyond trivial.
But can you believe there are billions of people in this world who have no clue how to do it? There are. Yet when was the last time you saw someone write a blog post on how to upload a document? Even better, have you ever seen a post on all the ways to get content into SharePoint, with step-by-step instructions?
The curse of knowledge is a trap that we SharePoint fans have to avoid at all costs. It is very easy for us to skip the easy stuff when talking about SharePoint, and to talk down to anyone who doesn’t already know what we do. We love to talk nerdy about the tool, and we know whatever topic we want to learn about we can find in one of our favorite SharePoint “honeypots” on the Internet. That is great for us.
But if we want our platform to continue to grow and flourish, we need to remember that for every person who “knows it all,” there are millions of people who know nothing about SharePoint. And when you talk to those people, don’t get frustrated. Remember the time before you “knew it all” and take them slowly and steadily through the topic at hand.
Now that you have an idea of what the curse of knowledge is, I challenge you to integrate this thinking into your life every day. Don’t get frustrated when someone asks you a “stupid” SharePoint question; instead, be excited you have that knowledge and try to find ways to explain it to them.
Also, when evaluating yourself, use the same exercise. I often argue with one of my coworkers because he suffers heavily from this curse. He has only been doing SharePoint for a couple of years, and he works with a bunch of people who “wrote the book on it,” so when it comes to SharePoint, he is constantly frustrated by feeling he doesn’t know enough. In reality he probably knows more than 90% of the SharePoint world in his area of focus.
The curse of knowledge has trapped him into underestimating himself and preventing him from sharing his knowledge with other people. When I tell him to blog about the things he knows well or to create training instructions for that stuff, he scoffs. “Everyone already knows how to do that,” he says. Ah, the curse of knowledge at work.
Make sure you aren’t falling into that trap. You have invested a lot of time into your SharePoint skills, so be proud of them and help make the world a better place every chance you get so everybody does know that. As for me, I will get back to writing that PowerShell basics article.
Shane Young is a consultant at SharePoint911, a Rackspace company. He can be reached at email@example.com, and on Twitter at @shanescows.