The toast instructions

So a child in my life once asked his mother to write out the instructions for how to make toast.  Perhaps, like you are doing, I chuckled about this one a bit – isn’t this the most straightforward bit of cooking short of boiling water? The “meal” that you have when you can’t face actual cooking and have had popcorn the night before?

But then you break it down a bit and realize that if you hadn’t been paying close attention and observing how toast gets made, the “how” of making toast isn’t immediately evident.  Do you butter the bread before it goes in the toaster or after? Did you melt the butter to get that effect? You get the picture.

All to say, anything you find evident and obvious isn’t obvious to someone else. And with good reason.  This is related to the “curse of knowledge” that is described in some detail in a great book on communications called “Made to Stick.”

The short version of this “curse” is that the more you know, the harder it is to remember what it was like not to know this idea.  People who suffer from this “curse” struggle to explain ideas in clear terms, avoiding jargon and ensuring that the story is complete and concrete.  Everybody is guilty of this to some extent but the more we know the better we can do at breaking it down.

Bottom line, everything that is obvious to us now, wasn’t obvious to us at one point.  One of our great assets as managers is breaking things down into the most basic parts to bring people up to speed.  This is made even more challenging with the power imbalance inherent in relationships – people may not feel at ease telling us that they are not following so we’ll have to read their body language, see what questions they are asking etc., to see how it is going.  Better yet, we won’t jump in at the most abstract level, without checking in what people know and being prepared to go over the basics before diving right in.


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