The Curse That Causes Promotions to Fail
Written for EO by Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, disaster avoidance expert, speaker and author.
It’s tragically common for people in organizations to be promoted up the hierarchy to their “level of incompetence,” a concept in management known as the Peter Principle. They are promoted because they did well in their previous job, not based on their potential to meet the needs of the new position into which they are placed, even when the new role requires a wholly different set of skills. Moreover, there’s often no training for the new skills they need to learn to succeed in their new position.
This combination of poor promotion practices and lack of training stem largely from a dangerous judgment error known as the curse of knowledge, referring to the fact that when we learn something, we face great difficulty in relating to someone who doesn’t know it.
In other words, once we gain a set of skills, such as in managing others, we tend to forget what it feels like to lack these abilities; once we acquire relevant knowledge, such as the jargon of our profession, we tend to use it to speak to those who don’t know this jargon, and then wonder why they fail to understand.
As a result, we have difficulties communicating with others about our professional activities, teaching them the skills they need to learn, and collaborating with them in professional settings.
The curse of knowledge error comes from how our brains are wired. It represents one of the many dangerous judgment errors that scholars in cognitive neuroscience and behavioral economics call cognitive biases.