The Curse of Expertise: Knowledge is NOT Always Power
You've probably heard the saying, "knowledge is power." But have you ever encountered the paradoxical Curse of Knowledge?
The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, who is communicating with others, fails to disregard information that is only available to themselves, assuming they all share a background and understanding.
While many discussions focus on how this cognitive bias affects interpersonal communications, I'd like to explore a different angle: how the Curse of Knowledge can foster self-doubt and subsequently stagnation. From my experience, this often manifests in two domains:
Let's dissect these scenarios, especially from the perspective of a software engineer.
How often have you hesitated to chase an opportunity simply because you questioned your own capability? Picture this: You're a junior developer, and a mid-senior level opening arises in a domain you're well-acquainted with. But you bail, thinking you lack the required years of experience or aren't versed in a minor part of the tech stack.
Consider this: if you've taken my advice from If I Could Start My Dev Career Again, you've chosen a niche within the technology landscape. Consequently, your expertise likely surpasses many peers who aim to be jacks-of-all-trades. So, why let the Curse of Knowledge hold you back from roles where you might not tick every box?
Raises are another tricky domain. At a company I once worked for, a colleague joined a month after me as a junior developer. Three years on, while I had transitioned from a senior engineer to a tech lead, securing a 50% raise in my third year, he still wore the "junior" tag. This wasn't a company issue—it was a Curse of Knowledge issue. Starting as a junior, with dedication, one can swiftly acquire mid-level competencies within six months. The real challenge? Recognizing and valuing our own growth, which the Curse often obscures.
Technical writing can be a game-changer for developers. I wrote this article primarily to nudge my fellow developers into giving it a shot.
You might’ve heard, or even said it yourself, “I’ve got nothing to write about.” Think about it though. Didn’t you solve a tech puzzle recently? Maybe this week? Or the last? Not every piece needs to be a deep-dive guide. Writing is a skill, and as you flex that muscle, you'll find your rhythm. Ideas will come. For example, just last night, my mind buzzed with article ideas. Compare that to three weeks ago when I felt creatively parched. The key? Just begin.
Here's where the Curse of Knowledge sneaks in again. You might assume everyone knows what you do. "Why write about it?", you may think. But once you start sharing those ‘obvious’ insights, you'll find many thanking you for illuminating what was hidden to them. Remember, what’s routine for you can be revelation for someone else.
Over the past decade, I've had the privilege of mentoring numerous budding software developers. Their growth, in just a brief time, astounds me.
A recent chat with a friend highlighted this. Comparing our technical discussions from half a year ago, the shift is staggering. What once were basic inquiries have transformed into insightful exchanges that even leave me enriched.
It's worth pausing and reflecting:
Am I being tripped up by the Curse of Knowledge?
Have you felt this way? I'd be eager to hear if you've encountered this tricky cognitive bias. Share your experiences with me!