The Common Craft Blog

This blog is where we announce new videos & talk about the power of explanation & the change it can create. 

The Art of Explanation has been out for about 1.5 years now and it's been exciting to see how it has made it's way around the world. The book has now been translated into 6 languages (including 2 versions of Chinese).  A Russian version is forthcoming. 

Top row:  Korean, Hungarian, Simplified Chinese Bottom Row: Japanese, Spanish, Traditional Chinese.

Art of Explanation Translations

It's fascinating to see the book in other languages and consider what goes into the design. For example, the western translations in Hungarian and Spanish are similar in design to the actual book, with Common Craft Style artwork and colors. The design of the Asian versions vary wildly from the original. The Japanese and Traditional Chinese versions read with pages turning to the right (opposite of western books) with vertical rows of text.

Art of Explanation Japanese Version

If you've read one of the translated versions, I'd love to know what you think!

Our new video was the most requested by members and explains Primary and Secondary Sources in research (2.5 minutes).


About this video:

When researching, there are two main types of information sources: primary and secondary sources. Understanding the difference between them and how to use them can help make your projects more thorough and accurate.
What it Teaches:
This video looks back at a big event in history: The Great Storm (England, 1703). It asks the question - how do we know what we know about this storm? This question is answered by explaining primary and secondary sources. It teaches:
  • Why sources matter in establishing facts and information
  • What represents a primary source and how to use them
  • Why primary sources may present an incomplete picture
  • What represents a secondary source
  • How primary and secondary sources may contribute to the best understanding

The Cut-out Library Now Contains over 1500 Cut-outs!

Our library of "Common Craft Style" Cut-outs continues to grow and search is the best way to find what you need. Give it a try.
Add Cut-outs to presentations, documents, videos and more. They are designed to make your media more visually compelling.
Here's a hint - you can search by color to find characters that match. For example, here are all the "blue" Cut-outs.  

Antidotes for Information Overload

Posted by: leelefever on March 20, 2014- 1:30pm


Categories: Art of Explanation, article, data, Einstein, freud, research, Speaking

Later this spring I will be speaking at an event for institutional researchers called the AIR Forum ("AIR" is the Association for Institutional Research). In speaking with the organizers, I've learned that the audience is very data-oriented and sometimes find it difficult to make their findings understandable to others. It will be my challenge to help them become better explainers. 

In preparation for the event, I wrote an article that was recently published in their newsletter that focuses on antidotes for information overload. 

Here are a couple of excerpts from the article:

On the diminishing returns of more data:

From the perspective of a researcher, the truth is in the data. By sharing the details of the data and accounting for exceptions and confounders, for example, researchers can present accurate and useful information that stands up to the questions and analyses of their peers.
Within the insulated world of research, this can work and can be rewarded. But outside of the research world, a different perspective is required. The audience is typically not in a position to poke holes in your assumptions. They don’t necessarily care about the exceptions. They only want to understand why they should care. Details won’t help this audience.
Ask yourself this question when you’re communicating data: Is this information for my peers or for another audience? If it’s another audience, you must switch gears and realize that more details and data come with diminishing returns. Different audiences have different needs.

On the imprecise, but effective nature of analogies:

Sigmund Freud famously said, “It is true, analogies decide nothing, but they make one feel more at home.” I love that quote because it recognizes the inherent problem with analogies—they are imprecise. It is rarely possible to find an analogy that stands up to the impeccable standards of many researchers. But are they useful and powerful in relating ideas? I think so.
Consider some of the great scientific discoveries, like Einstein’s theory of relativity. In my experience, there are two ways to understand it. The first is to have an education in physics. With the proper training, we can see the theory’s details at work. For physicists, this is likely the most powerful way to understand it. But everyone else requires something different—the details don’t work.
Thankfully, Einstein often used an analogy that provided a layperson an imprecise, yet useful way to see the big picture of relativity. The most famous is likely the train analogy, where relativity and simultaneous events are explained using people, lightning, and trains—all real and familiar things. This provides a way for non-physicists to develop a basic, yet imprecise understanding that could lead to more learning.
While you may not need to explain relativity, you may find that simple, familiar examples and analogies can be used to help your audience see why data matter and why they should care.  

Read the entire article here.

Do you have ideas for avoiding information overload? Leave comment - we'd love to hear from you...

A Little Inaccuracy Can Go A Long Way

Posted by: leelefever on March 12, 2014- 9:57am


Categories: accuracy, Art of Explanation, freud, johnson, quote

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) was a prolific English author who is most known for A Dictionary of the English Language (1755). He contributed extensively to what we know about writing and literature. Recently I came across a quote of his that really struck a chord with me:

"In all pointed sentences, some degree of accuracy must be sacrificed to conciseness."

Put another way: you can be concise or you can be accurate, but rarely both. 

Indeed, the need or predilection to present information that is technically accurate is one the biggest barriers to clear explanations. A reason is it such a problem is that we're trained and rewarded in many parts of our lives for the very same accuracy that makes us less understandable in other parts.

Think about it this way... You work in a university, hospital or research lab where technical accuracy is paramount. Lives or at least your reputation may depend on your ability to be very specific and technically detailed in your work. But when you go to a dinner party and someone asks about your job, you find it difficult to make it understandable. You think of abstractions or analogies, but nothing seems right because they're essentially inaccurate representations. You've been trained and rewarded your whole life to be this way. Inaccuracy doesn't seem to be an option. 

If understanding is a priority, you have to be comfortable with some degree of inaccuracy. Much like Mr. Johnson said, you sometimes have to trade accuracy for understanding and that means letting go of some of the details and focusing on the big picture. It means using slightly inaccurate analogies to powerfully relate an idea. As Sigmund Freud put it:

"Analogies, it is true, decide nothing, but they can make one feel more at home." 

In an explanation, the goal is to make people care, so that they'll become interested in the details and be motivated to keep learning. A little inaccuracy may have to be traded to make your audience feel more at home.