The Assumption Gap

Sent by Jonathan Stark on January 16th, 2019

When an expert is hired by a non-expert to provide a service, there is by definition a knowledge gap. 

In other words, the expert knows stuff that the non-expert does not. 

For example, an experienced interior painter has probably forgotten more about paint and painting than a hopelessly unhandy homeowner like me will ever know. 

This knowledge gap is fine. It’s not a problem. If I want my kitchen painted, I don’t need to know a thing about painting. In fact, I don’t want to know a thing about painting. Knowing about painting is the painter’s job.

So, the knowledge gap is not the problem. The problem is what I call “The Assumption Gap”.

Here’s a quick definition:

The Assumption Gap—the delta between what an expert service provider believes is obvious and what a non-expert client believes is obvious.

The problem with The Assumption Gap in a service context is that the buyer and seller don’t find out about it until it’s too late - i.e., the service has been rendered and the client is not happy.

Here are some examples:

Situations like these are painful. Neither party enjoys these scenarios. They are costly, stressful, and disruptive to everyone.

So how do we avoid The Assumption Gap?

One reliable way to avoid getting bitten by The Assumptions Gap is: 

  1. For the seller (i.e., the expert) to uncover the desired outcome of the buyer (i.e., the non-expert), and 
  2. For the seller to uncover how the buyer is going to measure the success of the engagement. 

Once these two criteria are uncovered, the seller can decide whether or not they believe they can satisfy the buyer. 

NOTE: At no point is it necessary for the seller to educate the buyer about the complexities and nuances of their work!

The painter is an expert at painting and the homeowner is an expert at knowing how they want to feel when they walk into their freshly painted kitchen. 

Teaching the homeowner about paint is a waste of everyone’s time.

Yours,

—J