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The curse of knowledge

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The curse of knowledge

Is it possible to know too much?

It’s difficult to imagine not knowing something, once you know it.

For many of us, our morning routines will involve switching on our computers, logging into email, scrolling through social media and opening various documents (all the while glugging copious amounts of coffee). We’ve been using computers for decades now, so all of this is intuitive, we don’t even have to think about it.

Now imagine an office worker from the 1960s has time travelled to today and has never seen a computer, let alone used one. You need to help them get started. What information would they need? Surely, it’s a simple case of telling them to switch it on, enter the password and double click on what they want to open? But what if you don’t know where to switch it on? Or what a mouse is? Or where to find documents?

What’s obvious to you, might not be to others.

And this is true inside organisations. Sometimes internal communicators are involved in projects long before they’re communicated, especially when it comes to change. And when you’re living and breathing something, it can be easy to lose sight of what’s obvious and what isn’t. And that’s when communications don’t land as well as you’d hoped with employees.

So how can we ensure we don’t fall victim to the curse of knowledge?

Be aware of it

Recognise that we can all be guilty of not being able to see the wood for the trees from time to time. It’s only human.

Build it into your process that someone completely removed from the project needs to review your internal comms before they’re sent out to check that everything is clear and doesn’t require prior knowledge or more context.

For this to work, you need to leave your ego at the door and be OK with being challenged by colleagues to ensure you communicate important information in the right way.

Put yourself in the shoes of employees

Step into the shoes of your audience and really challenge yourself on what they will and won’t know. Have you articulated the ‘why’ clearly enough? How will this change affect them and what will they be most concerned about? The project team might be focusing on sharing the exciting details of the new office building whereas employees are more worried about how the move will disrupt their work, something the project team had ironed out months ago.

Remember your ethics

As internal communicators we need to uphold the ethics of our profession, which includes creating content that is clear, honest and accurate. Keep this in mind when communicating, and as with the point above, challenge yourself and hold yourself accountable.

Plan your content

While it’s not possible to plan every piece of content that’s shared within an organisation, it is important to do it with the ones that will have the most impact.

Setting out what you need to achieve and the key messages you want to convey can give you the space to think through your content and check you’re not succumbing to the curse of knowledge. It also means that once your content has been through an inevitable drawn out sign off process where it barely resembles what you created, you can check back against your plan to ensure the meaning and context hasn’t been lost.

Work with leaders

Leaders especially suffer from the curse of knowledge. They will often have been discussing a major programme of change and transformation for months and months before they even get to the point of communicating.

As internal communicators, it’s our job to understand as much as possible about a situation or project we’ll be communicating. We need to ask questions such as ‘why?’, ‘how did you come to that conclusion?’, ‘what was the driver behind this change?’ to uncover the detail we need.

That’s not always an easy conversation to have which is why it’s essential that you’re well connected in the organisation, are aware of what conversation is taking place, what people are concerned about to be able to convince leaders that employees are at least five steps behind where they are.

Listen to feedback

If you have communicated and it hasn’t quite landed, be open to listening to feedback about what was missing and address it as soon as possible. Depending on what’s been misunderstood will depend on how you do that. If it’s quick and simple answers you could do a FAQ, but if it’s something bigger, you might want to encourage your leadership to do a face-to-face Q&A.


Internal communicators are in the privileged position of being exposed to far more knowledge about an organisation than the average employee. So, we have a responsibility to not lose sight of what it’s like to be average employee and ensure we don’t succumb to the curse of knowledge.


By Helen Deverell for Alive with Ideas

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Jo Hobbs — Communications Manager

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Sarah Crowdy — Campaign and Media Officer Communications, South East Water

“We went to ‘Alive’ for ideas on how to run a specific employee program in Europe. Alan and his team were brilliant in coming up with fresh, creative and practical approaches. The team took charge and executed brilliantly. We are pleased with the progress made so far and hope to have the same level of partnership and commitment going forward.”

Sobha Varghese — Tata Consultancy Services

“Alive helped us create a video of our response to the floods of winter 2019. Our Chief Officer received messages from all round the country praising us for it and was really pleased with both the video and the response to it.”

Alexander Mills, Communications Manager — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“We had the privilege to work with the Alive team. It was our first time to be involved in creating an animation for our patients within paediatrics. The team were approachable, friendly, creative and very accommodating. Your vision for what you want to create, is at all times acknowledged, appreciated and accommodated by the team. They worked effectively and with great passion towards our project and worked not only alongside health professionals but also our patients who really enjoyed the experience of working with the Alive team. It has given our team the confidence and inspiration to do further projects in the future. We highly recommend Alive and their exceptional team.”

DR ELENI ATHANASAKOS, Lead Paediatric Clinical Scientist — NHS Barts Health

“‘The short animation developed in co-production with clinicians and young people is outstanding! Informative, developmentally appropriate, vitally fun and engaging. We are really grateful for the expertise of the Alive with Ideas team for their innovative approach in building children’s health literacy.'”

Kath Evans — Director of Children’s Nursing at Barts Health

“Our mission was to update our brand visuals to better reflect our innovative and forward-thinking organisation. After receiving numerous pitches from different branding agencies, Alive stood out with their clear passion and understanding of our identity and goals. We thoroughly enjoyed working with the Alive Team to create an engaging new brand that we are immensely proud of.”

Lianne Springer — Communications and Engagement Lead

“Alive wowed us during the pitch process and they didn’t stop wowing us throughout the whole project. Every person we worked with at Alive were so friendly, knowledgeable and clearly passionate about what they do. They have worked with us to really understand what we do and have created a new brand and website that really stands out from our competitors. Thank you!”

Louise Burnard, Head of Marketing and Communications UK — Be | Shaping the Future

“I think the team have done such a brilliant job, particularly with responding to our requests. It's one of the best mental health videos I've ever seen. Very proud to be associated with your exemplary work. Thank you so much.”

Dr Anna Batho — Clinical Psychologist – Critical Care, UCLH

“We have worked with Alan, Caroline and the wider Alive With Ideas team for many years. In that time, they have provided a dedicated service that is second to none. We appreciate their attention to detail and creative approach to bringing our brand, communications and stories to life. And would recommend them to anyone looking for creative communications support.”

Georgia Beech — Internal Communications Specialist, Ocado Group

“This is brilliant. I wanted to give my heartfelt thanks to all of the team who worked on this. You all understood exactly what we wanted to communicate and why, and then managed to do it in a way that was far better than anything I could have imagined. I’m a bit choked up to be honest!”

Sarah Wright, Head of Communications and Campaigns — NEA

“Each time I work with the team, I am always stunned at the effort and creativity that goes into each detail and am always eager for the end result. The team is extremely accommodating and always provide a fresh approach to our projects that elevates our communications materials!”

Alana Khaytin, Communications Specialist — Braskem America

“What I really appreciate about Alive is that they work with us as partners, and care as much about getting it right for our patients as we do.”

Sara Langston, Patient Engagement & Marketing Manager — italk

“Alive are unique in how much they deeply listen and invest in you and your ideas. I have not come across a company that listens as much as they do to ensure your needs are understood and met (actually - they always exceed my needs and expectations). Everyone I recommend Alive to has an equally brilliant experience. When you work with Alive, you are not only getting some genius creativity brought into your life, you are also hanging out with some of the best examples of human beings I’ve ever known.”

Steph Tranter, Hybrid Exec Coach & Psychologist —

“The (Alive) team were able to creatively pull together and document (in just over 2minutes) everything our service has achieved over the last few months, from thousands of prescriptions deliveries to hundreds of phone calls made to the vulnerable. The final product was so powerful and reflective of what our service has and continues to achieve. It couldn’t have been better received within the service – thanks Alive for once again helping us to communicate our vision!’”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire & Rescue

“We worked with the team at Alive to create our staff recognition video.
At a time like this, its never been more important to share the amazing work that our staff have done and continue to do on a daily basis under very difficult circumstances. We wanted to shout about this and recognise that when the time came, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue stepped up to the plate. We didn’t want an ordinary thank you post on social media or a basic email sent out internally, we wanted something special. Enter Alive. ”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“Our company is fun, we have great brands, but most importantly we’re all about our people – and I wanted an agency who would understand that and help us bring it to life through our website and other comms. Straight away I felt that Alive ‘got’ us and provided the creative inspiration exactly where we needed it, as well as the technical expertise to deliver a well-functioning website.”

Keren McCarron, Head of Corporate Affairs & Communications — KP Snacks

Thank you so much. Incredible work done at incredible speed by incredible people.
Outstanding work as ever and what a turnaround. As for the concepts – wow. These are that good it would be an insult to describe them as just good. It’s a joke, quite frankly. This is exactly the Alive effect I was after. Right now I feel like I am living in an Alive With Ideas wonderland. Thank you!”

Jack Grasby, Campaigns Manager — SYFR

“If you are looking to improve creativity and build teamwork, I highly recommend a session like this for your team. No matter where you are in your creativity journey, a workshop like this can give your team a boost of energy and ideas to invigorate their creative thinking.”

Amy Lilja, IC Manager — Hennepin Healthcare

“Alive were there to help when we were working every hour to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. They gave us the creativity, ideas and support we needed to deliver campaigns which empowered our residents in the most difficult time most of us have ever seen, personally and professionally. The team understood what we needed, worked closely with us and delivered fast without any compromise on quality. Working with Alive has been a joy in the darkest of times and I have no doubt will have helped to save lives. Thanks team x”

Julie Odams, Assistant Director of Communications & Customers — Derbyshire County Council

“We got 'Alive' involved to help us shift mindsets across our organisation and they delivered! Using simple, clear and creative ideas the team have delivered us a campaign which has seen a dramatic increase in idea sharing and development. They’ve also played a significant role in creating a culture of shared success. I wouldn’t hesitate to work with again, in fact, we already are!”

Gavin Buckle — B&Q
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