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You Are Too Smart To Explain It Well

Posted on 8/22/13 11:36 AM

You are too smart to explain it wellIt might seem that intelligent and experienced people make the best teachers. Although true in some ways, in others, a high degree of intelligence, especially when coupled with a great degree of experience can impede effective teaching. It’s an issue with the brain and how it functions. Our brains are like an eccentric genius who saves everything, but whose office looks like a cornucopia of chaos. A mess of papers and books filled with all forms of information but with no discernible pattern of organization. That is how the brain works. It saves everything and gives little consideration to “how” everything is filed. It is however a genius in terms of retrieval. It “knows” where to find things in that mess. So a terrible filing system, but an excellent retrieval system. In truth, it is retrieval and not memory that determines perceived intelligence. People who can’t recall a phone number or a another person’s name can still recall the lyrics to hundreds of songs. That’s because the song lyrics were surrounded by a lot of cues - like music, environment, people you were with. I bet many readers could easily tell me who owns this phone number 8675-309 even though I separated it differently then we commonly recite phone numbers.

Our intelligence and experience often works against us. In psychology it is considered a cognitive bias called, “the curse of knowledge.” Simply put, knowledge on a topic reduces our ability to view that topic from a more neutral or less informed perspective. The brain knows “where” the information or answer is stored and takes the shortest route to retrieval. Often ignoring or “forgetting” about the required steps in a particular process (this is called “habit”). Take a peanut butter and jelly sandwich as an example. Or more specifically, making said sandwich. When I was in college, I had an assignment in one of my developmental pysch courses. The assignment was to imagine an encounter with an alien from another world. The task was to explain to this being, “how to make a PB&J.” Seemed simple enough, except it wasn’t. Students missed explaining a number of steps in the process. Such as removing the jar covers, indicating how much of each ingredient to use, explaining what was meant by the word “spread,” and even clarifying that it is the covered sides of the bread that belong on the inside.

“Well everyone knows how to make a sandwich.” Sure, because they’ve been taught and have had experience at it. If you doubt that I invite you to let a few toddlers make PB&J’s on your desk or in your car. Which finally brings me to my point. We are deeply emerged in our particular field. We may even have years of experience in support fields such as loss prevention - many of our employees however are “new” to the business or have limited experience. That means what is often “common sense” to the experienced is completely unknown to others. Take employee theft for example.

You and I know that if an employee sees another employee stealing, then the observer should “report” the incident. Common sense meets standards of integrity. But like the PB&J sandwich there are steps and explanations the employee needs in order to fulfill the act of “report.” You wouldn’t tell a hungry three-year old to “go make a sandwich.” At least not without clear and implicit instructions. The point is that our own curse of knowledge works against our goal to raise or improve awareness. We skip many steps in our requests that employees should report theft and “get involved.” For example -

  1. What do you mean by suspicious behavior?

  2. What if I’m not really certain?

  3. What if I’m wrong?

  4. Who should I report it to?

  5. What if I don’t trust my manager? Or What if it is my manager?

  6. How do I report it?

  7. What happens when I report it? What questions will I be asked?

Even when we provide all these answers, sometimes we forget how critical it is to the would-be reporter that his or her identity be concealed. So we place the business abuse number on a poster thinking, “well they can just write that down.” Or we put up a display of business cards and think, “they can just take one.” Sure, but what if someone sees them writing down the number or taking one of those cards? The solution of course is to hand them a card as part of their new hire package, to place the number on every check stub or to mail a card to their home. All of these actions ensure comfort in the employee’s required level of confidentiality. I have no doubt that you are a professional with a high degree of knowledge and experience. When it comes to training and specifically awareness, those things may actually get in your way. We sometimes worry to much that we will bore our employees by reciting the basics. If turnover however is fifty to one hundred percent, chances are the folks you talk to know, won’t be here next year. So go ahead and repeat yourself. After all you don’t look both ways before you cross the street because you are smart…you do because your mom told you to about a 1,000 times. More importantly find a less experienced person to explain to you the process you want to train. His or her insight will help you recognize the things that are so obvious to you, that you’ve forgotten to include them.

 Authored by:

Ray Esposito   Ray Esposito

   Ray Esposito Linkedin


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