University of Maryland

Innovation & Entrepreneurship Reading Group: Beating the Curse of Knowledge

April 20th, 2015 by

Beating the Curse of Knowledge, Invitation #12

In 1990, Elizabeth Newton, then a psychology PhD student at Stanford, asked each participant of her dissertation research to pick a well-known song (such as “Happy Birthday to You” and “The Star-Spangled Banner”) and tap out the rhythm to a listener by knocking on a table. The listener’s job was to guess the song, based on the rhythm being tapped. Newton asked the “tappers” to predict the odds that the listeners would guess correctly. They predicted that the odds were 50 percent. However, over the course of Newton’s experiment, listeners guessed only 2.5 percent of the songs correctly. Why? The tune was in the tapper’s head, but she cannot sing it out aloud. Hence the listener can’t hear that tune, except a bunch of disconnected taps.

This is the Curse of Knowledge: Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. This is the challenge almost everyone faces on a daily basis: professors teaching students, job seekers impressing employers, administrators helping students and faculty, designers interacting with users, scholars proposing new research projects to NSF/NIH program directors, fundraisers cultivating donors, marketers persuading customers, and innovators and entrepreneurs effecting changes in organizations.

Your knowledge is “cursing” you. You can’t unlearn what you already know, but you can beat the Curse of Knowledge by transforming your ideas. How? Join us on Monday, April 20, 2-3 pm, in Hornbake 2116, at the 12th meeting of the iSchool Innovation & Entrepreneurship Reading Group. Light, healthy refreshments will be provided.

On April 20, we will discuss the following article:
Heath, C. and Heath, D. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Random House, New York, 2006, Introduction, pp. 3-24., available at

Emily Goering from the School of Social Work, University of Maryland, Baltimore, will lead the discussion.

The iSchool Innovation & Entrepreneurship Reading Group ( aims to disseminate and advance knowledge of innovation and entrepreneurship. In Spring 2015, we meet on Mondays, 2-3 pm to discuss classic and new articles on key issues in innovation and entrepreneurship, in conjunction with INST 621: Managing Digital Innovations in Organizations. All members (students, staff, and faculty) of the UMD community are welcome to attend any session. This group is sponsored by the Center for the Advanced Study of Communities and Information (CASCI) and hosted by Dr. Ping Wang ( See our full schedule at .