The Curse of Knowledge
Bron: Harvard Business Review
Many sensible strategies fail to drive action because executives formulate them in sweeping general language. "Achieving customer delight!" "Becoming the most efficient manufacturer!" "Unlocking shareholder value!"
One explanation for executives' love affair with vague strategy statements relates to a phenomenon called the curse of knowledge. Top executives have had years of immersion in the logic and conventions of business so when they speak abstractly they are simply summarizing the wealth of concrete data in their heads. But frontline employees who aren't privy to the underlying meaning hear only opaque phrases. As a result the strategies being touted don't stick.
Leaders can thwart the curse of knowledge by "translating" their strategies into concrete language. Stories too work particularly well in dodging the curse of knowledge because they force us to use concrete language.
FedEx for example uses a story related to its Purple Promise award which honors employees who uphold FedEx's guarantee that packages will "absolutely positively" arrive overnight:
In New York a FedEx delivery truck broke down and the replacement van was running late. The driver initially delivered a few packages on foot; but then despairing of finishing her route on time she managed to persuade a competitor's driver to take her to her last few stops.
Stories like this are tangible demonstrations of the company's strategic aim to be the most reliable shipping company in the world. A top sales executive can use the New York story to say: "This is how seriously we take reliability." A new delivery driver can use the story as a guide to behaviour: "My job is not to drive a route and go home at 5 PM; my job is to get packages delivered any way I can."
Concrete language and stories defeat the curse of knowledge and make executives' strategy statements stickier. As a result all the members of an organization can share an understanding of the strategies and a language for discussing them.