“The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, communicating with other individuals, unknowingly assumes that the others have the background to understand.”

- Wikipedia

The curse of knowledge is typically referenced in educational situations where the teacher knows so much that they have a hard time simplifying the message down to the experience or understanding level of the audience.  They also refer to it as “talking over the heads” of people.

Increasingly, it is being referenced in the marketing space.  A recent Yankelovich study estimates that the average person is exposed to 5,000 marketing messages a day. 

That is a pretty confusing and noisy marketplace to try to get someone’s attention!

As a result of this, master storytellers like Donald Miller and his StoryBrand marketing methodology are really gaining traction.  They say, “if you confuse you lose”, and getting your message down to its’ most powerful and simple to understand level is the key to your success.

After going through training on his StoryBrand methodology in Nashville, we completely reworked our website, messaging, and our business cards.  I even walk our message through his story construct before every single talk that I give.  (It has become part of the experiential toolbox we incorporate into every client engagement.)

For instance, there are dozens of processes we employ.  There are several different products we offer.  We pull from a half dozen different coaching certifications/methodologies and incorporate the best and brightest from dozens of authors and thought leaders into our coaching.  But at the end of the day, what we really do with every client is help them…

  1. Build a Team

  2. Define a Future

  3. Create a Plan to Get There

There are thousands of words, examples, justifications, processes, and even powerful testimonies I could offer to support each of those three bullet points, but very simply, that is what we do.  

The curse of knowledge makes it way easier to confuse than clarify.  StoryBrand says that you are typically explaining what you do at a 9 or 10 level, where your average customer is approaching what you do at a 1 or 2 level.  Simplifying what you do into its’ most fundamental and powerful essence is going to be way more difficult than you think, but it is the path to understanding and impact.

“I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

Mark Twain

Jesus of Nazareth actually modeled this idea beautifully.  When legalists of his day tried to trick him with complicated conundrums, He summed up the entire gospel into a few simple words…

Love God.  Love others.

Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) modeled it beautifully also.  After wrestling with trying to explain what a jerk he had been and how much he cared for Dorothy Boyd (Renée Zellweger), he simply said, 

“You complete me.”

In three very simple words, he conveyed volumes.  And as cheesy and contrived as it sounds now, it struck a chord with millions when he said it to her in the film.


  • What great need are you filling with your company?
  • How many words would it take for you to powerfully convey your message?  (It took us 12, Jesus a handful, and Jerry Maguire just 3!)
  • Are you explaining that in a way that almost anyone could understand?