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How to Overcome the “Curse of the Expert”


Tue Dec 23 2014

How to Overcome the “Curse of the Expert”

Try this experiment: Grab a partner. Now, tap out the tune of a well known song on an available surface while your buddy tries to guess what it is. Give him or her at least three tries.

I bet all three guesses were wrong, despite of the fact that you could hear the song in your head as clear as day, right? Is your partner an idiot? No, but you are suffering from the curse of the expert.


The curse of the expert is what makes it so hard to develop training on your area of expertise. It is a little bit like trying to unsee something—it’s impossible!

If you’ve been assigned this ungrateful task, you know exactly what I mean. In spite of your hard work, learners complain that:

  • critical information is missing

  • the organization of the training seems, well, disorganized

  • the information isn’t basic enough; it is too complicated and complex. 

So, what is a harried subject matter expert (SME in training parlance) to do?

Here are five steps you can take to help overcome the curse of the expert the next time you are asked to develop training.

  1. Start with the big picture. Map out the high level steps of whatever it is you need to train on. Avoid getting mired in details. Instead, walk through what you do and list the steps as they come to you. Shoot for no more than 7 to 9 steps.

  2. Populate each big step with little steps. Take each big step you identified and break it into the small steps that make it up. I’ve found it handy to make a flowchart that shows these little steps along with any decisions where I would veer off the main path and do a different step as a result of a decision I made.

  3. Break it down. For each little step and decision, list what someone would need to know to do the step or make the decision, as well as any resources required and any quality standards that apply.

  4. Write it out. At this point, you should have a pretty thorough outline of what to cover. Now, write it out more fully to create slides or other materials you’ll use in the training.

  5. Test it. Run the training materials you created passed someone who is representative of the people who will attend the training. Revise your materials in response to any questions they asked and places where they got confused.

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