The No-Expert Rule and the Intelligent Fifteen-Year-Old Corollary

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It may take a village to raise a child, but if it takes an expert to explain your business concept or strategic idea or the benefits of your product or service, you’re in trouble. To succeed, you’ve got to get your idea across to the rest of us and we like our explanations simple, thank you very much.

My No-Expert Rule is that the more expertise you need to explain your concept, the less likely it is to succeed. The corollary to the No-Expert Rule is the Intelligent Fifteen-Year-Old Principle.

When you’ve got a concept to get across to others, test out your explanations on an intelligent fifteen-year-old. If he or she gets it, you’ve got a good explanation.

Fifteen-year-olds have enough education and more than enough sophistication to understand anything you’ve got to say. What they don’t have is any knowledge of your business or any of the fancy technical things you know.

They’re also fearless. Since they know that they’re bright and they suspect that you’re not, they won’t have a problem letting you know if you’re not making sense or if your explanations aren’t clear.

Fifteen year olds are everywhere. You can capture their comments for the price of some pizza. So test your explanations on fifteen-year-olds until the explanations are clear. You’ll find that your messages will be more effective and you’ll save lots of money that you would have spent on experts.

Boss’s Bottom Line

Complex, polysyllabic explanations may seem sophisticated, but mostly they’re just ineffective. Test out your ideas and explanations on people who aren’t familiar with your business.


Check out Clay Shirky’s excellent post on “The Death of Complex Business Models.”

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