There are many things that you get better at as you practice, but re-creating your first impression of something is not one of them.
By definition, a first impression is not something you can do again and again and again. It can only happen once.
It is one area where a newbie will always be the superior of even the most highly trained professional. This is a well known, well-studied phenomena called 'the curse of knowledge: under most circumstances, it is nearly impossible for a person educated in a subject to remember what it’s like to know nothing about it. This is especially true when it comes to the things that are the most familiar: for example, when I write a book, I can't pretend not to know the story. When I cook a meal, I can't forget my cooking skills. When I build a webpage, I can't forget all the previous versions and effort I put into it, and look at it with new eyes.
And as a result, I can’t spot where I forgot to include the paragraph of backstory on the second main character that makes the climax make sense. That part of the story is in my head, and since I already know it, I forget that I haven't written it down on paper. When I am teaching someone who doesn't know cooking, I get a really quick education that not everyone is born knowing how to use a microwave. And when I am elbows deep in a design project, it is hard to take a step back and imagine what it's like for a person looking at my art for the first time.
My head is filled with details – the details that come with long familiarity with a place or a thing – and I become utterly unable to spot the obvious.
Do you know who can spot the obvious? Who has to spot the obvious, because that’s the only way they can navigate a brand new, chaotic world?
That’s right. A newbie.
And borrowing the eyes of a newbie is one of the only ways a professional can tell if their work is working as intended.
If I intend to dazzle my audience with creativity, and the newbie comes away saying “Meh, I didn’t like the part with the princess and the prince because I’ve read a thousand stories like that before,” then I know I have missed the mark and need to rewrite the story. A newbie figured out in a couple hours of reading what the I haven't figured out in a year of writing. That is the value of a newbie.
What if I intend to pass along tips and tricks for how to cook economically? (Microwaved baked potatos, by the way. Cheap, good, nutritious.) Then, when the newbie has the potato in their hands, I need to remember to include instructions to wash it and stab it with a fork so it doesn't explode before baking it in the microwave for three to five minutes. The newbie, who didn't know the art of potato cooking before, can demonstrate they know it now, and I can confirm that I have teaching skills. That is the value of a newbie.
And if a webpage suddenly has a lot of visitors who stay on it for longer than 10 seconds instead of leaving, I know I can stop re-designing it, because the page is finally good enough. The eyes of newbies have confirmed the value of the page.
None of those would be possible or even recognizable without the eyes of a newbie.
Newbies have value. Newbies have value specifically because they are newbies.
What if newbies were actually paid for that value?
Some newbies are. Many authors pay small amounts of money for people to read their books before publication. Some web designers pay small amounts of money for people to take a look at their page. But, for the most part, not only are newbies hardly ever paid for the valuable information they provide about the people, places, and things they interact with, newbies usually have to pay for the privilege of providing that information. Much of which goes completely ignored.
For example, students. Barring paid internships, or people in training programs run by companies, students have to pay for the privilege of spotting errors that are obvious to them and that older and more experienced people are oblivious to. It can be anything as small as a typo that makes the test question wrong, or as large as pointing out that allowing bullies to openly bully and shame students in classrooms makes it impossible to learn.
It is often said in business that what people don’t pay for, people don’t value. Unpaid students are not valued at all.
Newbie eyes could save experienced professionals incredible amounts of time by spotting obvious things professionals can no longer see. Things like “Why are we using a font that’s hard to read?” in a website. Or by stepping on the rotten step that everyone in the school knows to avoid. Or, when the newbie is trying to learn organic farming techniques, mentioning that the skinned goat carcass hanging from a tree is a pretty creepy way to be greeted when driving up the lane to guest-work on a farm.
Newbie eyes could even save people from perpetuating wrongs, if newbie eyes and newbie first impressions were valued. The name of an organization is part of a newbie’s first impression. What does it say about that organization if the name is based on something said by a mass murderer? Or a slaver? What does it say when intern comes to an organization and sees that it has obviously picked a name that advocates an attempt to help a group of people, yet makes it quite obvious they haven't every even talked to a single member of that group? What does it say about a building if the word freedom and justice are outside it and there are spikes all around the bottom to prevent homeless people from sleeping there? Newbie eyes are not trained to look past those injustices yet. Newbie eyes can spot the obvious.
But most newbies are also trained to keep their mouths shut out of fear of offending the person asking their opinion. For example, when I write a book, what I want to hear is, "This is the most amazing book EVER and it is going to sell like hotcakes and change the world!" Most newbies sense this. If I have made no effort to prove that it is safe to tell me that my book isn't great, they will say something polite and diplomatic and escape as quickly as possible.
When that happens, it is entirely my fault for not making a safe place for the newbie to know that their opinion is respected, and, more importantly, valued. They shouldn't help me make a better story under those circumstances. The world is full of other feasts for newbie eyes, and they ought to go find places that value that.
What if, instead of ignoring or devaluing newbies to such an extent that we make them pay to learn how to ignore the obvious, that we insult them for pointing out the obvious, and we trained them to diplomatically enable us to not see the obvious, we did something different?
What if we took them and we used their immense ability to spot the obvious to make our world better?
If you need someone to spot the obvious, find yourself a newbie. And in order to convince yourself to value that newbie’s first impression, pay them for it. Like I paid a newbie to review this article.
And not something insultingly low, either. The first impression is of value to you, and the amount you pay the newbie should reflect the idea that you value their time, their safety, and their life.
A living wage is a start.