The “Tyranny of Knowledge”

I have found over my career that the biggest cause of problems is due to a lack of information or understanding. We “think” we know what the problem is but often times we only understand part of it. Let’s face it, it takes a lot of effort to ensure that everyone understands. Even if you are sure, there are still nuances in that understanding that can lead things astray.

The other day, I was talking to one of our executives about our Jive Software platform called Engage. The adoption of this platform has been phenomenal, but not without issues. We’ve left the “honeymoon” phase and now are seeing new challenges as our community matures.  As part of the discussion, he mentioned this tyranny of knowledge that really resonated with me. So much so that I wanted to share it with others.

Typical Communications

As a leader, whether your are a CEO, VP or even an individual contributor in a company whether large or small, communicating with people is one of the biggest challenges. In a typical organization, this typically is handled by communicating your goals with your direct reports, who in turn relay to their staffs. If you have many layers in your organization, there are many opportunities for things to go wrong. This is in part due to the simple game of telephone, but also impacted by a number of other reasons, including culture, language, politics, etc. Often times as the leader, it is months before you even have a clue that things are amiss. This could be devastating for a company. Often times we look back and try to figure out what went wrong.

What went wrong, is when information is shared, we think that people understand what’s in our heads implicitly. We believe because we know what we’re thinking that everyone automatically has the context and background to put things in perspective, when in fact we tend to under-communicate and over-assume. Sometimes this is due to time constraints, sometimes so people don’t feel your talking down to them, sometimes because we can’t share the details for very valid reasons. Regardless this tyranny of knowledge causes more failure than success, often resulting in dissatisfaction,  false impressions, bruised egos and in some cases catastrophic consequences.

A Practical Example

This analogy was used to describe the Tyranny of Knowledge to me and can be demonstrated by anyone. Find someone to share a song with. For this demonstration, we’ll use the Star Spangled banner. Now, the only rule is that you can only tap out the song (no humming, singing, etc). I can almost guarantee that even though we know exactly what we are tapping that the answer will not be the one that we are trying to communicate.

Over the next few posts, I will try to share use cases where Social Business can make a significant impact on communicating effectively.

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