I was recently part of a community of 40 women starting their own blogs.  One of the most common worries that came up in our little community is, “Who am I to write about this topic?  Who am I to teach this topic to others?”  As Mary Angelou once said, “Who are you NOT to be?”

One of the things that stops us in our tracks when venturing to start our own business is the curse of knowledge.  The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias in which we are so accustomed to our expert level of knowledge, we do not remember what it is like to not understand what we know so well.  As a result, we assume other people know what we know when in reality, they don’t have a clue.

In 1990, Elizabeth Newton, a Standard University psychology student, came up with a simple way to demonstrate the curse of knowledge.  You can recreate it with a friend and see for yourself how easy it is for the curse of knowledge to hinder our communication.

Elizabeth took two students and assigned one to the Tapper and one to be the Listener.  The Tapper was to think of a well-known song and tap her fingers on the table to the rhythm of the song.  The Listener was to listen to the rhythm of the tapping and guess the song.

Before the Listeners guessed the song, the Tappers were asked to guess how often the Listeners would guess the right song.  The Tappers, on average, thought the Listeners would guess the right song 50% of the time.  In actuality, the Listeners guessed the correct song 2.5% of the time.  The Tappers were cursed by the knowledge of the song in their head.  To them, guessing the song based on the tapping of their fingers was easy because they knew which song they were tapping and could hear the music in their head as they tapped on the table.  The Listeners, however, were not privy to this information and basically made blind guesses as the rhythm didn’t make sense to them.

As coaches and entrepreneurs, we understand our topic so well; we hear the music as we tap out the rhythm and assume others can hear it too.  They can’t.  They need you to help them hear the same music you hear.  So, how do you overcome the curse of knowledge when starting your business and working with clients?

  1. Be aware of the curse of knowledge:  Acknowledging the problem is the first step in overcoming the problem.  You have to understand that people don’t know what you know.  That is why they need you.
  2. Speak the language of your client:  Break your knowledge down into the most basic pieces.  If you think what you are teaching is too simple, you are on the right track.  Your client needs the most basic information to form a solid foundation on which to build and understand more complex elements.  Get down to their current level and bring them up to where you live.
  3. Use stories to paint a clear picture: Stories are a powerful and simple way to explain a concept and get everyone on the same page.  FedEx used this tool to demonstrate their strategic aim to be the most reliable shipping company in the world.  A delivery truck broke down in New York mid-shift.  The replacement truck was running late and the FedEx employee still had several packages to deliver by the promised delivery date.  The driver delivered some packages on foot but knowing she wouldn’t be able to deliver all the packages on time, she negotiated with another driver who had finished early to deliver the last few packages.  By sharing this story, FedEx executives clearly explain to other employees that their job is not to drive their route and go home at the end of their shift; their job is to deliver the packages on time anyway possible.

Are there other coaches who teach what you teach?  Probably.  Does this define your potential for success?  No!  Why?  Two reasons: 1) There are too many people in the world who need your expertise; and 2) There are people who need to learn what you know in a way that only you can teach it.  Use your voice.  Be authentic. People will connect with you and learn from you in a way that just doesn’t work with someone else.  You are needed in your field.  Move forward and spread your message.

ChelseaChelsea Baugh is a nurse and a blogger who encourages people to live authentically and follow their dreams.   Her experience as an oncology nurse taught her the importance of pursuing dreams and really living.  She firmly believes life is to be enjoyed and lived fully.  You can follow her blog at www.chelseaannebaugh.com and join her on social media.


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