Overheard in a DIY shop

Bloke says “Yogawany paint seals?” To which the cockney woman behind the counter replies “Yeah I think so…”.

I could not believe she understood him. I thought I was half decent at understanding strong accents, but this was something else. Then she continued, shouting back to a colleague, “Dan, where are the pencils? Back by the measures?”. 

‘You got any pencils!’. Of course. ‘Yogawany paint seals’ is practically obvious now. Like anything that is unclear or obscure before you understand it, as soon as you get it, your brain practically loses the ability to see how you couldn’t understand before. Like suddenly seeing an optical illusion. 

When a pattern or system is clear, it’s obvious. Prior to that, it’s a mystery. Navigating this duality of knowledge is the hardest part of teaching or communicating ideas. 

Everything that you know about something feels innate, but you need to understand that it’s not obvious outside of your head, and find a way to explain it simply and clearly to a new audience. No relying on your experience and familiarity, and no giving in to the possible boredom you feel for having repeated something thousands of times before. To the new audience, every word and concept that you present has to be considered if the communication is to be clear. 

While these thoughts are getting further from my experience in the shop, it reminded me also of a song tapping game that I heard about. It came from the book Made to Stick, which I’ve not read, but I found this review which introduced the tapping game and the idea I’m talking about: 

The main problem is the “Curse of Knowledge”: The person sharing the idea has all sorts of insider information that others don’t, so they have already framed the problem and understand its relevance. A single example illustrates the essence of the problem: One study tested a “tapper and listeners” game: They asked a person to tap out the rhythm of a song and have another recognize it – the listener nearly always failed to identify the song. What happened, of course, is that the tapper sings the song in their head and thus thinks he has the right rhythm, but the person hearing the taps cannot hear the song inside the others head and therefore has no idea of what the taps mean. [From a summary of Made to Stick]

The Curse of Knowledge. Another of my favourite cognitive biases! The long list of which always reminds me of something that a friend once wisely said of herself, while contemplating the difficulty of writing an online dating bio: “I’m just a collection of traits”. So spot on. 

PS. Dan confirmed, the pencils are back by the tape measures in Dalston Lane Travis Perkins, though I would recommend making the trip to Leyland SDM on Dalston Lane instead, which is cheaper, friendlier and has loads more stock. Probably even paint seals, if they’re actually a thing.