The Curse of Knowledge

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“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

This quote by Arthur C. Clarke is also known as Clarke’s Third Law and is as relevant, if not more so, today as when he wrote it in 1973. This is especially true for the IT-industry where technology changes rapidly and new solutions seem to be following faster and faster.

Any change in an organization with an IT-component, a digital transformation, is based on the three P’s. These pillars being Product (the technology being used), Process (how will we work with the technology) and People (who will build or work with the technology). And this last P is where Clarke’s Third Law comes into play.

I have been working on a relatively large cloud migration project for the last two years. The technological leap that is being undertaken is astounding to say the least. On the Product side things are coming along nicely. The Process side still has some hurdles, but these all have actionable solutions. It is the People side that still needs the most attention.

And let me explain why this is often the case. Any company that has been working with a certain technology for a while is set in their ways. All of the processes are around that technology and people are familiar with the “magic” that it performs. Now we as consultants come in and start designing and implementing new products and processes. In this we often forget that the people who have to work with this new technology are not as far along as we are.

Learning to run

In this way I can compare them to my daughter. When she was born she was unable to crawl, nor was she able to walk or run. After you learn to walk you do this without conscious thought. It is often the same with our knowledge regarding technology. A lot of things we know come so natural to us we often forget that not everyone knows these things. And these things also become hard to explain. Think about how you would teach someone to breathe. That can be terribly frustrating! Now this is called The Curse of Knowledge.

Encouragement

When we were teaching our daughter to walk this came with a lot of practice, patience and holding her hands while speaking words of encouragement.

Now, I am not saying that we should treat those who still lack the knowledge or skills as small children. But I am saying that we should be more conscious of the knowledge gap that exists between us and those we are teaching. This might mean that we need to cater to various types of learners and experience levels.

A fragile triangle

Digital transformation, as I mentioned earlier, is about the three P’s. These P’s form a sort of triangle and if one of them is out of alignment the whole thing requires far more effort to stay in shape. As  we can make any technology work, but that often leaves us blind to, especially, the People side of the transformation. And this will ensure that transformations become far more expensive at the very least or downright catastrophes at its worst.

How to deal with this?

Dealing with our blind spots is hard, but it can be done. Early in the project identify those people that need to work with the new solution and talk to them. Talk about their hurdles and concerns. Investigate what they know and what they want to learn. Have them challenge you. Encourage them to ask questions and questions and questions.

And last but not the least, like when you are teaching a child, be patient and be kind. 

Mark van der Walle

About

Mark is an experienced software architect with more than 15 years professional experience in software development and operations. In his years of experience Mark has always had a drive of building and designing reliable and simple solutions to complex problems. To realize this Mark has a strong focus on quality backed by solid engineering, CI/CD pipelines, DevOps principles and craftmanship. At his customers Mark guides development teams and supports business stakeholders in building cloud native applications and going through cloud native transitions.

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