The Downside to Being an 'Expert'

Knowledge blindness could be hurting your team and business

The Downside to Being an 'Expert'

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There’s a fascinating concept called knowledge blindness. Once you are an expert at something, you can’t imagine what it is like to know nothing. As a result, it’s hard to discuss with a beginner. Your points of reference and foundational knowledge are so far apart that he or she can’t follow the conversation.

Many contractors suffer from knowledge blindness. Words get used that have no meaning to the person you’re talking to, you reference concepts he or she has never heard of, and you forget that the “easy” task is difficult.

Knowledge blindness might not seem like a big deal. We all enjoy being an expert because it makes us feel important. But it hurts your company in three important areas: customer service, bidding and training.

Customer Service

To sell a job, the customer needs to trust the repair is necessary, your approach is best and you are competent to complete the repair. At first, sounding like a fancy expert might seem like the way to go. That would be a mistake.

Yes, you need to sound competent. But you also want to build rapport and trust. It’s hard to get people to buy something they don’t understand, even when necessary. You don’t want to come across as a fast-talking snake oil salesman. 

Explaining what you are doing and why will give a customer much more confidence. But you have to simplify your diagnosis, which means going through a lot of what you think of as “common knowledge” that maybe isn’t so common.

To avoid this, use specific and simple language. When possible, show them what you are talking about, drawing a sketch if you have to. 


Getting a quote, estimate or bid correct is the first step in an excellent customer service experience. It’s also important for job profitability. A good estimate requires an accurate accounting of each step of the job, which takes knowledge and practice.

Plenty of contractors discount the complexity of the work — especially if you are working with a crew less experienced than you. If I had a nickel for every job that “won’t be a big deal” and then morphs into a huge deal ... well, I’d still be short profit because we lost a lot more than a nickel on those jobs. 

Good estimators have a gift for avoiding knowledge blindness. 

The cost of a job has nothing to do with how long you need to complete the work. Instead, take into consideration the realistic ability of the team you have available, besides a host of other factors.

Don’t assume inexperience is the worst enemy of a good estimate. An experienced contractor can become blind to the complexities of the job and discount the time and difficulty.


Taking into account workforce shortage, training your existing staff to their highest potential is more important than ever. If you don’t realize how much you know, you can’t pass it down.

Consider the dynamic between the newbies and the veterans. Everyone has pride, and no one enjoys looking stupid. The newbie might not seem like he can speak up or admit he doesn’t understand.

Unfortunately, it is common for a knowledge-blind conversation to get interpreted as an experienced guy not wanting to share wisdom. But it is much more likely the trainer is dealing with knowledge blindness and he doesn’t understand the vantage point of the trainee. But a green kid, eager to prove his worth, might not say, “I don’t understand. Can you explain that to me again?” 

When approaching a training session, formal or informal, the trainer should know this phenomenon and try to compensate. 

Avoid skipping important foundational knowledge. In a private setting, get a gauge for how much your least-experienced guy knows. The worst-case scenario is that you always start at the beginning. It won’t hurt anyone to review the basics. 

In fact, I love teaching, writing and explaining basic concepts to people because I’m forced to review basics. It helps me remember that foundational elements are important problem-solving tools. Experts have a gift for overcomplicating everything.

Push your trainers and leadership team to explain what might seem obvious. You know what happens when you assume, right?

Avoiding knowledge blindness completely is impossible. By definition, we don’t realize we are doing it. Once we reach an expert level of anything, it is almost impossible to put ourselves in the shoes of the person we once were. You can’t help that, but awareness of the concept can help us avoid these major pitfalls with our customers, profit and staff. 

It’s important we meet people and projects where they are and remember the KISS principle: Keep it simple, stupid!

About the Author

Anja Smith is managing partner for All Clear Plumbing in Greenville, South Carolina. She can be reached at


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