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Overcoming the Curse of Knowledge
"Four tips to prevent the symptoms..."

authenticity content marketing entrepreneurship how to fascinateĀ® personal branding personal stories storytelling-truthtelling Oct 03, 2023
Karolien Vanhelden - Personal Branding - Curse of knowledge

I discovered I have a disease… These last days I had interesting chats with fellow entrepreneurs. They examined me, asked me questions to better understand the symptoms and gave me insightful information. I finally made the diagnosis myself: I suffer from the Curse of KnowledgeWhilst I have always seen my knowledge as my strength and my mission (Unlocking together the world’s authenticity and knowledge, right?), apparently my knowledge can also backfire right in my face. And I can tell you, that insight hurts…

I explained to a former colleague that I created a personal branding business. Her answer: “It’s a pity I didn’t know that earlier, because I already have a logo and a website and I have already posted on social media to increase my visibility…” OK, personal branding is much more than that… And during a network lunch I discovered that even entrepreneurs with a huge turnover didn’t really grasp the magnitude of personal branding and were focused on the implementation part whilst skipping the strategic side of personal branding.

And then it hit me. I assume people have the background knowledge to understand what I am saying, which often isn’t the case. I think everyone interprets personal branding in the way I do. The Curse of Knowledge is that you forget what it is like to not know what you know. We assume that people know what we know and that is why our mind unconsciously skips over details we take for granted. The Curse of Knowledge has probably hit you, as a victim, in many situations. For example, just recently a specialist explained me how solar panels function. It just left my head spinning.

So we need to be careful that our own expertise doesn’t work against us, especially not in our writing. Due to the Curse of Knowledge our message might become unclear and we are creating barriers between us and the people we want to reach. Our writing just becomes a fog in which our readers and potential clients are trying to find their way (and if they don’t find it, are dropping out).

I am not the only one suffering from the Curse of Knowledge. I can imagine we are all patients with the same disease. That is why I would like to propose a treatment or rather give some advice to entrepreneurs and professionals on how to prevent some symptoms and to overcome the Curse of Knowledge in their writing.

  • Make your reader the hero of your story

Sounds logical, right? Perhaps the easiest way to overcome the Curse of Knowledge is to remember that your personal brand is not the hero of your story. Your reader/client is. So you need to find the sweet spot between what you know, what you share and what your reader knows. Actually, it comes down to empathy. Put yourself in the shoes of your clients/readers, or even better spend time with them. In that way you will have a better view on their level of understanding and knowledge of your expertise topic and you will know which pain points and frustrations you will need to address.

  • Do a jargon check and write out acronyms

Jargon may come across as hot air. Specific technical terms might sound good, but don’t necessarily add value. Any technical terms that may be unfamiliar to your audience or unnecessary buzzwords that obscure the message should be omitted from your content piece.Only if your jargon makes the text easier for your audience to understand, you can keep it. But then you need to teach those words to your reader or translate them.

Same goes for acronyms. They can be misunderstood. So on first usage, always write them out with the acronym in brackets following it. Just out of respect for the people who are not yet familiar with it.

  • Put your writing through the grandma test

You can picture your grandma (or someone else who doesn’t have any knowledge of your field, like your 15-year-old son) and ask yourself some questions:

Are there unfamiliar concepts or any words that my grandma doesn’t know, which I need to explain more in depth? Are there any metaphors from her own background I can use to illustrate these words or concepts better?

If you envision a specific non-expert, it will encourage you to explain your point in easy-to-understand language and force you to simplify your ideas. (Watch-out: Don’t over-explain either!)

  • Get feedback

You can establish your own corps of test readers. Surround yourself with some friends who don’t have your level of knowledge on your specific topic (working with a professional editor is also possible, of course) and ask them if they get your message. I must admit my partner Tim is often my forced volunteer to evaluate if my text is understandable enough. If not, I will rewrite it…

OK, we all have a disease. Luckily not a rare disease. We all suffer from the Curse of Knowledge every now and then, definitely in our writing. Do a self-check on the symptoms. We are just too smart for our own good, right?

But treatment is possible: checking in with your potential clients, picturing your grandma reading your content piece, surrounding yourself with test readers and leaving out too difficult words. Sounds easy, but the reality is different. I will do anything in my power to overcome the curse and to get better. Don’t hesitate to give me a heads up when I leave your head spinning… Take care of yourself!


Personal branding is much broader than having a logo or a website and being visible on social media. Let's exchange ideas, explain my view on personal branding to you and see if I can help you to increase your visibility in an authentic, confident and fascinating way. Let's plan a free call and talk!

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