Accessibility Page Navigation
Style sheets must be enabled to view this page as it was intended.

Zelda wrestles with what’s in her head ...

The Zinger writes... 

I know what I know. And so do you, I would hazard to guess. But I don’t know what you know, even if we sat down, got drunk and spent the evening in deep conversation. If we did, I might have a better idea of what’s inside your head. But as I’m easily distracted and prone to completely forgetting stuff, the feeling of warmth and intimacy engendered might evaporate with the hangover.

An experiment offers some proof - try it at home. It involves two people, where one thinks of a song and taps it out on the table in front of them. The other tries to guess what that song is. It’s not dissimilar to the intros round on the television panel show, Never Mind the Buzzcocks.

The rub of the experiment is that the person doing the tapping has the benefit of the song playing in their head. To them it is self-evident. But to the person trying to guess likely doesn’t have a scooby.

When I attempted it, all I saw was my partner tapping away, eyes bulging slightly, thinking: “It’s obvious. So obvious. Why don’t you get it.” In fact I only guessed one right out of three, which was actually pretty good odds.

According to blogger Andy Zinga, listeners only tend to correctly identify 2.5 per cent of the melodies they heard being tapped. But the tappers tend to think that their partner’s chances of getting it are closer to 50 per cent.

This is what psychologists have dubbed the “curse of knowledge”. It is a cognitive bias, those little tricks of the mind that make us think we are smarter, more able or wiser than we really actually are. They are not bad, per se, but nor are they perfectly logical.

The curse part of the bias is that whatever is clear to us, must be evident to others as well. Except we would be wrong.

One of my colleagues recently demonstrated the danger quite well. I could hear her side of conversation on the phone. The person to whom she was speaking seemed to like to use the word “obviously” to punctuate her statements. Except Claire often interjected, saying: “No, in fact it is not obvious. Why don’t you tell me?”

I’ve seen it too when people pitch their ideas to prospective investors. There was the one chap who was clearly brilliant. He had invented something so cool, so useful it was going to foment revolution. OK, so it was a bit niche. A bit too specialist perhaps. There was no doubting his enthusiasm. It seemed the perfect solution to some sort of problem or other.

But what, was uncertain. Trouble was, no one had the foggiest idea what he was going on about. He didn’t win the funding.

So what we need are tools - the basic fundamentals of communication. Include graphs, pictures, words, sounds, interpretive dances in order to tell the same thing over. Therapists sometimes suggest telling the same thing three different ways. And keep it simple.  It may seem stupid to break something down into its constituent bits. But it’s not. It is only obvious when it is obvious to everyone who can see it.

Until then, it’s all in your head...