The Curse of Knowledge

I recently finished a book called Made to Stick which is about why some ideas stick and others don’t. It was a fascinating look at the psychology that goes into making a message “sticky” and it provides a lot of insight and ideas about how to get people to understand and remember your message. I highly recommend it if you have to deal with getting other people to buy into and remember your message but the point of this newsletter is to apologize to you when I fall for the Curse of Knowledge.

The Curse of Knowledge is what the authors called it when an expert in a field forgets what it is like to not know what they know. For example, I’ve been doing this “cutting edge” training thing for over 10 years now and in that time I’ve just come to accept certain facts. Things like strength being the basis for everything else and functional anatomy are all part of my everyday life but things that most mountain bikers have never been exposed to.

As I look back on my training career I remember going to the gym and loading up the bar for some squats and not paying a lick of attention to exactly how I was doing them as long as I got more weight on the bar. I remember hitting the machines so I could “isolate” a muscle and attack it from different angles. I also remember having no real long term plan and just skipping from one workout to the next, often just pulling a routine out of a magazine or off the internet before going to the gym.

Most of all I remember the frustration that came with not seeing the results I thought I should be seeing and all the trips to the chiropractor trying to keep my back aligned. With that frustration came my journey into becoming a strength coach and seeking out the best in the business to see how they produced results.

I was lucky enough to get exposed to some great coaches right off the bat, guys like Ian King and Charles Poliquin who were decades ahead of their time. I have spent thousands and thousands of dollars on books, videos and mentorships in an attempt to become half the trainer the guys at the top are.

The point is that sometimes all of that knowledge makes it hard for me to come back to the basics and I have been guilty of just talking over people’s heads. For example, when I first started telling people that aerobic base training was a waste of time for most riders I was met with a lot of resistance that I did not understand – why wouldn’t you want better results in less time? But looking back it was the Curse of Knowledge rearing its ugly head and me being unable to remember what is was like when I was out there putting in the base miles because “that’s what the pros do”.

I think I’ve made some good inroads on the intervals vs. aerobic base training debate, thanks mainly to me going back and writing some articles explaining the basis for my statements. However, the whole clipless vs. flats debate is the next thing I’m hoping to help people understand better, especially when it comes to the movement quality issues I talk about.

Most riders have never been exposed to guys like Gray Cook and Mike Boyle so they just don’t have the knowledge base to understand what I mean when I say that sitting and spinning with clipless pedals and shoes is an unnatural way to power movement and will result in overuse injuries. I know that a lot of times people think I say this stuff just to be different and gain attention but that is simply not true – I’m only concerned with helping you ride faster, longer and with more confidence while avoiding overuse injuries.

So I invite you to do two things. First, if you really want to understand where I’m coming from then doing a little reading at and following the blog of guys like Mike Boyle and Alwyn Cosgrove will help a lot. Second, next time I’m coming across like a crazy man spouting mountain bike heresy please assume that I’m not just trying to piss people off, I just fell for the Curse of Knowledge and let me know.

Shoot me an email or post a comment on my blog and I’ll step back and lay out my arguments better. I’m here to help you enjoy riding more and I’m not helping anyone if my message is getting lost.

-James Wilson-

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  1. Zachary says:

    Good for you man. It is very hard to “come down” to what the regular public know. As a Paramedic I have to explain to people with no medical training what is going on and what I am doing to help, sometimes your get in the habit of explaining it like you would to a Doc/nurse only to be received with a blank stare. I hope you can “dumb down” some of your reports so some of us not in the field can have the ah ha moment when we realize what your trying to get at. And as for the flats vs clip-less thing I didn’t believe you at all. Until I rode with a friend of my that frequents your site who let me ride his bike with flats. It just felt much more natural and after some adjusting I feel that it would be very nice to ride like that. As I am in school I cant afford to switch but I look forward to doing so to see if it helps me. I also look forward to future posts and hope one day to maybe get a ride in with ya. 🙂

    Reply • September 16 at 7:28 am
    • bikejames says:

      Its funny you mention that because that was the other half of the curse – looking at making things simple enough to be understood by the non-expert as “dumbing down” the message. The trick is to keep the essence of the message but not get bogged down in the details and expert speak. If the message gets lost it won’t stick, no matter how “right” it is.

      Reply • September 17 at 4:04 pm

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