The Novice’s Curse

When developing any skill, it’s tempting to skip through the fundamentals too quickly and pursue the trickier, flashier parts.

This is true in gymnastics; in coding; in learning French; and in business.

Greg Glassman, founder of CrossFit, called this “the novice’s curse”. It’s typified by “excessive adornment, silly creativity, weak fundamentals and, ultimately, a marked lack of virtuosity and delayed mastery,” according to Glassman.

In business, this looks like hiring without job descriptions, written staff instructions or recorded operating processes.

It can also mean embarking on a complex Facebook ads program without a basic sales process or pricing binder.

Here are the fundamentals that an entrepreneur should master before moving on to more complexity in their business:

Systemization of all processes

Published pricing

Clear path to client outcomes

Target market (or niche) well defined.

These are the fundamentals on which can be built a sales process, referral marketing process, staff hiring and evaluation; and then advertising and staff funnels, as well as management tiers.

However, many novice entrepreneurs skip these steps and try to hire their own clone. Or they think, “I just need more clients!” and embark on a Tiktok advertising campaign before they even have an onboarding process for them.

The opposite of the Novice’s Curse is called “virtuosity” in gymnastics: performing with grace, the movements flowing seamlessly together, and without flaw. In other words, doing the common uncommonly well.

Glassman suggested that his trainees think about times where we were taught by the very best in any field, and to recall that the instruction was likely simple, fundamental, and repetitive.

This is the value of coaching. Many entrepreneurs, pianists or athletes can recognize flaws in their peers’ performance, but fail to spot flaws in their own. A mentor or coach maintains just enough distance to be objective and prescribe corrective action.

What’s also true is that coaches aren’t just for novices. In fact, the more specialized or “elite” an athlete becomes, the more specialized their coach must also be. This is the same in business: novices can benefit from general business advice, while high-performing entrepreneurs might need specialized coaches–or even a team.

When I was trying to pull my gym out of its death spiral, I worked with a mentor whose experience was all in heavy industry. He’d literally just turned around a steel mill. But his instruction to systemize everything applied to my situation, because I was a novice.

Today, I work with several specialized coaches. Like a team of Navy SEALs, each is highly proficient in business but a specialist in their niche:
Bonnie Skinner, LevelUp Coaching, for clarity and confidence;

Carrie Wilkerson, who has built mentorship practices to the level I want to reach in the next two years;

Top10Podcasts, to help with my podcast hosting and growth;

…and various other specialist coaches that I call in to solve problems without the pain of “figuring it out myself”.

One of the other attributes of the novice: they might not recognize themselves as a novice.

Consider the business owner who has owned a gym for 8 years. They haven’t tried anything different in 8 years; or they haven’t learned anything from their trials, because they haven’t measured any outcomes. instead of 8 years of experience, they have one year of experience repeated 8 times. Their business isn’t growing because the owner isn’t maturing beyond the novice level.

How do you move away from the novice’s curse?

  • get a coach
  • measure the outcomes of everything you do
  • master the basics and repeat them even when they’re boring
  • delegate, don’t abdicate
  • reflect on your wins and turn your losses into lessons
  • record everything for posterity.

When in doubt, focus on the basics. I wrote The Simple Six to help entrepreneurs find the fastest path to growth instead of falling prey to the Novice’s Curse. You can get a copy here:

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