Janet Rae-Dupree had an excellent article in the NY Times, Innovative Minds don’t Think Alike
, which points to the need to avoid tunnel vision when it comes to communicating new ideas.
The article – one of the most emailed pieces in last week’s Times, according to their Saturday edition business section, which tracks top stories of the week – inspired me to tie together some loose threads from my recent blog and article reading.
This so-called curse of knowledge, a phrase used in a 1989 paper in The Journal of Political Economy, means that once you’ve become an expert in a particular subject, it’s hard to imagine not knowing what you do. Your conversations with others in the field are peppered with catch phrases and jargon that are foreign to the uninitiated. When it’s time to accomplish a task — open a store, build a house, buy new cash registers, sell insurance — those in the know get it done the way it has always been done, stifling innovation as they barrel along the well-worn.
It is hard to argue against this thinking, and she does cite several examples, as well as quote author’s of books that support the thesis.
Yet, when it comes to tech PR and journalism, the opposite can hold true as well – skating across the surface of a space, and not understanding the Zeitgeist, the buzz, the thinking – not having domain knowledge – can cause one to offer only superficial insight, and to weave narratives that don’t resonate, ring true, or are just plain wrong.
The dangers of superficial coverage have been documented elsewhere.
In his post Tech Journalism at a Crossroads
, Shel Holtz summarized a podcast done by John Dvorak on the CrankyGeeks blog in which top tech journalists from NY Times and PC Magazine discussed the state of tech journalism. Some of the takeaways:
The requirement to have fresh copy online daily has led reporters to abandon the more in-depth and substantive coverage that once characterized technology reporting…
[Panelist Gregg Zachary of NY Times]:’suggested that the day is approaching when technology reporters won’t be necessary at all. As he put it, companies will issue press releases sliced and diced into distinct sections that can be assembled anywhere without journalistic intervention.
Sure, it’s always nice to get a traffic boost from Digg or StumbleUpon, but the value of that traffic may not be worth the effort. The fundamental skills of PR — creating compelling content, building relationships and delivering on a message — are still critical in the Age of Search.
This addresses the need to focus on creativity and better story telling as I have said in my recent posts. Tech tricks can help to the point, and it is great to talk about optimizing content, and social media optimizing press releases.
Inevitably it is people who will make or break your content and ideas – the best memes (Wikipedia definition
) will win out in the end, and until machines can think like people, they will be no match in identifying and sharing top content and ideas.
[The curse of knowledge is] "…why engineers design products ultimately useful only to other engineers. It’s why managers have trouble convincing the rank and file to adopt new processes. And it’s why the advertising world struggles to convey commercial messages to consumers."
In their book, the Heath brothers outline six “hooks” that they say
are guaranteed to communicate a new idea clearly… To innovate, Mr. Heath says, you have to bring
together people with a variety of skills. If those people can’t
communicate clearly with one another, innovation gets bogged down in
the abstract language of specialization and expertise.
Sounds like a must-read for the tech PR crowd, and a recipe for ways that agencies and clients can work together to build better memes.
So, by all means avoid tunnel vision, but have enough awareness of a space or technology to be able to communicate well and tell a better story, collaborate with those who have domain knowledge, and go beyond tech tricks – the mechanics of PR and social media – to develop concepts that connect with intended audiences.