The other day, our Media Director, Nate Houts, was talking about the journey of confidence as it relates to expertise. For most people the journey goes through the following phases:

Phase 1: I know nothing, but I have a lot of confidence!

Phase 2: I know some things, and now realize how much more there is to know, and am living in The Valley of Despair.

Phase 3: I know many things, and my confidence in my knowledge has grown.

Phase 3 is a great place to be…except for one thing. At Phase 3 you risk falling victim to The Curse of Knowledge. (Dun, dun, duuuuuun!) What do I mean by that? I mean that you know so much about your field, your company, your product, etc…that you can no longer separate what you know from what your audience needs to know in order to follow along with your brand story.

A Telling Experiment

In 1990, there was a Stanford University graduate student in psychology named Elizabeth Newton. She performed what has ultimately become the most famous experiment illustrating this Curse of Knowledge concept. In the study, she divided a group of people into two groups. The first group she called the “tappers” and the second group she called the “listeners.” The “tappers” had to tap out the rhythm of a famous song. (Think “Three Blind Mice” or “Happy Birthday.”) The listeners had to listen to the rhythms being tapped out and identify the song. Simple enough, right?

But before the experiment got going, she asked the tappers to estimate how often the listeners would guess the correct song. In general, the tappers figured that the listeners would guess about fifty percent of the songs. (These were simple, famous songs, remember.)

What actually happened was…the listeners were only able to identify about 2.5% of the songs the tappers tapped.

Why The Gap?

The gap between what the tappers expected and how the listeners actually performed exists because the tappers suffered from The Curse of Knowledge. They knew what song they were tapping. They could not go back and “unhear” what they were trying to get across. 

But the listeners couldn’t “hear” the songs. They could only hear the taps. And that knowledge gap was too great to overcome for the success the tappers were anticipating.

What Does This Mean For You And Your Business? 

The message you think you’re portraying may or may not be getting across. Or, it might be getting across to some customers, but you could potentially be leaving some people behind. You could be “tapping out” information about your company without the audience really hearing everything they need to know to make a buying decision.

3 Ways To Tell If You Have The Curse of Knowledge

There are three great questions to ask yourself to see if you’ve been cursed:

  1. Are you being specific? If you’re using a lot of vague language like, “This product will change your life” chances are you are losing people. Be specific about the problems you are solving and how your product/organization will change the lives of the people you are speaking to.
  2. Are you reaching people at every stage of the journey? Instead of an instagram post that says, “Big Bucks Are Back–It’s Time To Act!” give your audience more context. What if someone wasn’t around the last time you ran your “Big Bucks” campaign? They would have to go digging around to find out what it is–and most people don’t have that kind of time. Be sure to put in a brief description of Big Bucks before posting.
  3. Do you need an outside perspective? Even when you are aware that you may have the Curse of Knowledge–that doesn’t make it easier to deal with. Getting a third-party perspective can help you identify blindspots that can ultimately bring in more leads and sales.


Expertise is a wonderful thing, and knowing your company inside and out is a crucial part of running a business—just don’t let those things give you blindspots when talking with your potential customers. Use the three questions we’ve listed above to make sure you’re connecting with your audience in a way that makes it super-simple to make a buying decision.
If you aren’t sure how to get started and are looking for a third-party perspective–get in touch with us today.