100,000 Dollar Pyramid

Spoiler: The Curse of Knowledge

When we are on the expert side of a field of knowledge, we can’t easily “unknow” or disentangle parts of that knowledge. We’re not really in a position to do a good job assessing what those who are totally naive to the topic need to know first, before they can grasp the rest of it. It’s been so long since we were in their shoes that it’s difficult to remember what it was like.

In the revived $100,000 Pyramid game show on ABC, celebrity and commoner pairs take turns guessing and giving clues. One person sees a word or phrase on a readout that only he/she (and via titling, the audience) can see, and gives clues in order to get their partner to say that word or phrase. There’s some real time pressure, because the team is trying to get through several words within one minute. 

When the heat’s on, slow thinking, or per Kahneman and other behavioral scientists, System 2 thinking, is dang near impossible. We don’t have time to deliberate. So we fast think. And it's this fast thinking that is required of the clue-giver. As the conveyor of info and person operating under the Curse of Knowledge, the clue-giver has a tough job—especially during crunch time, methodically teasing out what needs to be known to increase the odds of the guesser “getting it” can be a challenge. Work environments increasingly bring more such situations—we have a lot to do and fewer minutes available to do so.

Here’s an example: “Things with batteries,” is what you, as the clue-giver, are trying to get your partner to say. You fast think, “Remote control.” Pretty obvious, right?

Reflect, even quickly (the time pressure’s still there, but you want to be effective). What if you added more detail than you’d imagine would be necessary, just to be safe? After all, you may be assuming away one detail that might clinch it. What’s true about a remote control and a heightened feeling of need for batteries to run it with? When is the remote-battery connection most obviously felt? You now slow think, “dead remote control.” Why is it dead? Because of the batteries. Now, within the context of other clues such as, "a child’s electronic toy," you’ve increased the odds of your partner “getting it.” Many of us spend more time replacing AAs in remote controls than any other device (RIP The Walkman).

So what can we learn from The $100,000 Pyramid? Solve a more vivid problem. Even a little more vivid. Just a tad more context. Make it a bit richer. Think of those moments or contexts when specificity can more effectively bring your topic to life. Make it come alive. Get people into the moment that they can best relate to. Build a bridge that fully gets back to where their next footstep would take them, then successfully across the meaning gap.

And make your partner win.

Adam Hansen

Adam Hansen is co-author of the book, "Outsmart Your Instincts: How the Behavioral Innovation™ Approach Drives Your Company Forward," and Innovation Process Facilitator at Ideas To Go – an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies to incorporate the voice of the consumer in ideation and concept development.