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“Tappers and Listeners” in IT.

by Harley Stagner on January 3, 2007

Tonight, I just started reading “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die“. Let me just first say that I haven’t even gotten through the introduction and I am already hooked. The whole premise of this book is a workshop approach to making your ideas more “sticky” or memorable (well received). I had to stop reading and make this post after running across a story in the introduction that made a point that I had already known (I have spoken about it before over at I had just never presented the idea as “innately sticky” as Chip and Dan Heath have in their book. They related the idea in a very simple story (a true one). As it turns out, “Stories” are one of the six principles that make ideas sticky according to the Heaths.

They told the story of Elizabeth Newton, who in 1990 earned her Ph. D. with an experiment involving “tappers” and “listeners”. In this experiment the “tappers” received a list of well-known songs that they had to tap out on a table to the “listeners”. The “listener” had to guess the song being “tapped.” Out of 120 songs only 2.5% were guessed correctly. What made this noteworthy was the fact that the “tappers” were also required to guess how often the “listeners” would guess a song correctly. The “tappers” guessed 50% when the reality was 2.5%. Why such a huge margin of error? The “tappers” had what the Heaths referred to as the “Curse of Knowledge.” When they “tapped” a tune it was impossible for them to tap it without hearing it in their head. Their prior knowledge of the song title made it impossible for them to imagine the “listener” having no such knowledge.

I found this passage of the book so meaningful to what I do on a daily basis that I had to post about it. Imagine the typical “IT Professional” as the “tapper” and the unsuspecting user as the “listener.” The IT Professional has a vast amount of knowledge about how a piece of technology or system may work or how to use a particular system that the user simply does not possess. The IT professional has made a career out of understanding technology. The user simply uses technology as they go about their own careers as sales professionals, doctors, lawyers, editors, producers, etc. I charge IT Professionals to think about this next time they catch themselves being impatient or rude while answering what they deem to be a “dumb user” question.

[tags]Business, IT Management, Information Technology, Reading, Users[/tags]

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