Back in the late 90s and early 2000s, when I made my living as a professional calligrapher and artist, I did quite a bit of itinerant teaching.

My favorite part of teaching calligraphy (or anything, really) was figuring out how to explain a concept in a way that would make sense for that particular student.

The secret?

I used a lot of metaphors and analogies.

My favorite example of this was whenever I taught the technique of pen manipulation.

No, this does not involve clever, unscrupulous strategies to get a pen to bend to your will. (If only!)

Pen manipulation involves twisting a broad-edged pen while making a stroke, and keeping the full edge of the nib in contact with the paper.

It makes for more elegant, graceful pen strokes, but it’s a tricky, advanced move. And the timing of the twisting is really confusing and hard to see.

When do you twist in which direction?


I hit on a great analogy to help illuminate pen manipulation for my students one day when I likened the two corners of the pen nib to two horses about to compete in a horse race.

Right out of the gate, the left horse immediately pulls out front!

The right horse doesn’t catch up until they get to the finish line (the baseline, where the bottom of the letter sits).

Seeing the two corners of the square-edged nib as horses engaged in a race proved to be the breakthrough for virtually every student I worked with.

What had previously been an esoteric concept that felt out of reach to them, now felt within their grasp — something they could actually achieve (though it would take practice, for sure!)

Calligraphy is No Different from Other Types of Expertise

In many ways, calligraphers are a lot like researchers, tech geeks, or anyone with specialized expertise.

When I was first learning to do pen manipulation myself, I had to figure it out. It was awkward, and difficult.

With time and practice, though, I stopped having to think about it.

Pen manipulation became one skill in my toolbox of skills. It was just something I did — part of my expertise, if you will.

The problem with having expertise is that, typically, the more expert we become at something, the worse we become at communicating about it.

We forget what it’s like to not understand. We forget what it’s like to not be an expert.

This is what’s known as the “curse of expertise,” or the “curse of knowledge.”

It’s a cognitive bias that occurs when we assume — without realizing we’re even making the assumption — that everyone knows as much as we do on a given topic.

It’s a failure to recognize the amount of detailed information that has been forgotten.

We all suffer from the curse of expertise as one point or another.

As a teacher, of course, my job was to get really good at overcoming my cognitive bias, so I could explain for my students the very concepts where I was, in fact, an expert.

But in today’s world, I would argue that we all have to get good at this — not just teachers.

If you want to be an influential leader, it is incumbent upon you to think about who your audience is.

👉 Who are you trying to communicate with?

👉 What is their level of expertise, in relation to yours?

👉 What do they NOT know that you DO know?

👉 What is the context they’re coming from? What analogies would make sense to them, in order to help explain the areas where they don’t share your level of expertise?

Influential leaders are good at making things clear. They help turn on lightbulbs for others, rather than keeping them in the dark. 💡

This is why using empathy to communicate with different types of audiences is such a foundational element of the work I do with teams in my Influential Leader program.

You’ve got to build mutual understanding, and listen to understand, in order to communicate for influence and find common ground.

If you’ve noticed a curse of expertise problem on your team, I’d love to help!

I love working with researchers and tech teams to help them connect and communicate better, so they have more impact across (and beyond!) the organization. All using my F.U.N. Method™.

Ready for your team’s impact to match their smarts?
Book a complimentary Team Performance Assessment Call here:


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