In our last blog, I talked about The Expert’s Trap. That’s not all you have to watch out for; there’s an Expert’s Curse too.

As we advance in our careers and become experts, we learn the knowledge and skills and gain the experience necessary to excel in our jobs. However, as we develop our expertise, we risk falling into the trap of the expert’s curse. We forget what it was like not to know, making it challenging to impart our expertise to others.

The Phenomenon of the Expert’s Curse

The expert’s curse (sometimes known as ‘the curse of knowledge) is a phenomenon where experts have difficulty sharing and transferring their knowledge to others. Experts have acquired so much knowledge that they no longer know what it was like before they had it and can’t recall how they learned it. They have developed unconscious competence, which means they can perform tasks automatically. That makes it challenging for them to break down complex concepts and teach them to others in a way that is easy to understand.

As Masters, we will share our knowledge and experience with others in ways that, as experts, we may not have felt were necessary. In my book “Intentional Mastery”, I describe how sharing insights and skills is at the heart of true mastery. That can’t be done unless you break the Expert’s Curse. When we struggle to explain complex concepts, we need to do more work around understanding how we do things. We can never assume that others have the same level of knowledge as us. That struggle can lead to frustration for us and those we are trying to teach.

Reacquainting Ourselves with the Learning Process

We need to remember what it was like not knowing and understand the struggles of learning. If we can identify the knowledge, skills, and experience we use unconsciously, we can make them conscious again. Then we can pass them on.

One way to do this is by engaging in deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is a technique where we break down complex skills into small parts and practice them individually. By doing this, we can identify the specific knowledge and skills that someone learning will need to improve. We can also engage in reflective practice, evaluating our performance, recognising the contexts in which that performance can happen, and identifying improvement areas.

Developing Communication Skills

We also need to develop our communication skills. We need to make the complex simple and the difficult easy. Our experience will give us examples, and our mastery will show us suitable analogies and examples to illustrate our points.

We also need to be aware of our language when communicating with others. Experts can use jargon and unfamiliar technical terms, and masters simplify. Masters also recognise where someone is on the journey of mastery. They provide knowledge to the explorers, hone novices’ skills, share experience with practitioners and explore insights with experts.

Overcoming the Expert’s Curse

In conclusion, the expert’s curse is a natural phenomenon that affects many experts in various fields. To overcome it, we need to remember what it was like not to know and reacquaint ourselves with the learning process. We also need to develop our communication skills and be aware of the language we use. Doing this allows us to make the unconscious competence conscious again and pass on our expertise to others.

As masters, we are responsible for sharing our knowledge and experience with others. It can be frustrating when we struggle to do so, but overcoming the expert’s curse can make us better teachers and mentors. By reacquainting ourselves with the learning process, developing our communication skills, and adopting a growth mindset, we can break down complex concepts and make them accessible to others.

2 Comments

  1. mark lee

    Great blogs William. May I offer another variation of the Expert’s curse? There may be another word to fit this but I experienced it many times in my previous career as a specialist tax adviser.

    I sometimes felt that my clients lost out because I knew too much. I understood some tax rules better than typical general practitioner accountants. This led to me discouraging clients from doing things that might have reduced their tax bills.

    Less expert advisers were unaware of the risks – and there was often no come back because HMRC never became aware of the clients’ actions (that I would have discouraged).

    So the less expert advisers were able to reduce the tax paid by clients (through naivety and inexperience).compared to the tax those clients would have paid had their advisers been more experienced and expert.

    Reply
    • William Buist

      An interesting dilemma Mark and one I see sometimes too. It’s not really part of this curse, but you describe a very real issue.

      The clients that get the less informed advice may be slightly less taxed but they are carrying the worst sort of risk. Risks that you know about can be mitigated, risks you are blind to, or assume aren’t there tend to be the ones that bite eventually. That’s why I always recommend taking advice from the most informed you can afford.

      Reply

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Written by: William Buist - all rights reserved.