Empathy Trumps Experience: Why You Vastly Underestimate How Helpful You Can Be

Summary:  “Expert” is a myth our complex, rapidly-changing world, yet most people feel like they’re not experienced enough to offer advice and help to others. They’re wrong. Everyone has experiences that can help others and novices are often in the best position to give advice because they recently experienced the beginning challenges.  But expert or novice, being truly empathetic is the real key to being helpful. Here me discuss this post on SoundCloud.

Kevin’s Helpful Marketing Newsletter Issue #5

Last year I decided I needed a better way to connect with people who read my blog, hear me speak, or meet me at events. So I blocked out time for office hours and let anyone in the world book a 30-minute slot with me to get startup help or advice.

If you want the truth, my biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to help them. “I’m not Brad Feld/Mark Zuckerberg…etc. What if they ask me questions and I don’t know the answer.” After all, I’m just another struggling entrepreneur and don’t think of myself as an expert in anything. Right?

Wrong. I’ve helped dozens of people around the world and made many new friends. I absolutely promise you that you can do the same.

You Vastly Underestimate How Helpful You can be

For the past few months I’ve spoken to dozens of people about office hours and what they do to help other people.  Everyone feels like he or she isn’t expert enough to help others. Everyone is also wrong, wrong, wrong.

You – yes, I mean YOU – can be vastly more helpful to others than you realize.

The Expert Myth – Why Novices Often Give Better Advice

Our world is insanely complex and changing every minute. There is no such thing as “experts” anymore, and by being a novice you are often in a better position to give advice because you recently overcame basic problems.

Take a moment and think about some of the experiences you’ve had in the last 6 months.

Got Rejected by Y-Combinator?

If you just applied to Y-Combinator and got rejected, you’re more of an expert than I am. I’ve never applied, but if I decided to apply I’d sure appreciate your advice.

Ruby on Rails Newbie?

Suppose you’ve only been programming in Rails for 3 months. Congrats, you’ve successfully gotten Ruby on Rails running on your environment. Thousands of people would appreciate your advice because getting Rails running is a major pain in the #$%. Of course they could ask David Heinemeier Hansson for advice, but he probably hasn’t installed Rails on his environment for years. Mostly likely – and ironically – you’re probably in a better position to help somebody new to Rails than DHH because you are novice yourself.

Empathy Trumps Experience. Always.

When was the last time someone gave you 20 minutes of complete, undivided attention and listened to the challenges you’re having?

  • She didn’t once look at her phone.
  • She didn’t interrupt you.
  • She didn’t judge you.

Just imagine for a moment how that would make you feel. Someone truly, deeply listening to you, giving you the opportunity to speak you thoughts aloud, talk through your challenges and options.

She then asks you a few clarifying questions, helps you identify your options, and perhaps offers a few small pieces of advice based on her experience.

Do you have any doubt that such a conversation would be incredibly helpful?  But you probably can’t remember the last time it happened. True empathy is rare but all of us can give it.

Lots of people can point out our shortcomings and tell us what to do but EVERYONE can listen and help us think through our own options.

Have a Blog, Product, or Service? Congrats, You’re an “Expert”

Most of us run in tribes of people who work in our field. Designers read designer blogs and spend a lot time talking to designers. Devs talk to devs. I spend a lot (ok, most) of my time focused on learning more about more effective ways to build companies.

When we’re in our tribe it’s easy to forget how much we know relative to those outside of our tribe. It’s one reason why the curse of knowledge1  makes it harder for us to communicate about what we know best.

I know shockingly little about design and I’m very intimidated by it. I’ve never even used Photoshop.  If you’re a beginning designer who knows how to use Photoshop you’re already an expert in my book.

No One Asks My Advice on Brain Surgery

People who ask for help almost always need help on the basics. Step 1. Often they’re so confused they just need help understand what question to ask.

So far everyone who has scheduled office hours with me has asked my advice on the basics of entrepreneurship, particularly Lean Startup and Customer Development since that’s what I write about.

Many have other complex questions but they don’t ask for my advice. They’re smart enough to know what I’m qualified to answer.

So far no one has asked me which Investment Bank they should use for their IPO. Or how to scale their business from $10M to $20M in revenue.  Or tips on brain surgery.

You Can Be More Helpful than You Imagine

I know you still doubt yourself. That’s ok, I did too.

My advice is to suspend your doubts and make yourself available to help more people. I predict that you’ll meet great people around the world, you’ll make new fans, you’ll get inspiration for your blogs and products, and you’ll feel great about yourself.

If you’re wondering how to get started, check out my previous issues of this newsletter below.  And of course, you can always talk to me in person.

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Photo Credit:  F3LONY

  1.  Thanks Cesc Vilanova
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