My new book, Big Enough, arrives on September 15th and I can't wait to share it.
Big Enough tells the Common Craft story over a decade, with a focus on the experiments and decisions that helped us create a thriving two-person business that doesn't require an HR department. The book is for anyone interested in saner, healthier approaches to building a business that supports their values.
Pre-order the Book
Big Enough is available for pre-order in both ebook and paperback, using the links below. I hope you'll consider pre-ordering because you'll be the first to receive it and pre-orders help the book earn attention when it launches. The 90-second video below will make it clear.
Note: You can also pre-order from the book's home page and I'll send you free stickers and maybe Big Enough socks. :)
Explainer: Why Pre-Orders Help to Authors
From the Back Cover:
An eye-opening antidote to the endless-growth mindset, Big Enough offers an alternative path to career success
In this illuminating book, entrepreneur Lee LeFever gives an inside view of building a scalable, product-focused business—while never compromising on quality of life. Lee and his wife, Sachi, responded to the promise of the internet by building a home-based business, Common Craft, that was profitable yet small enough to pivot and innovate.
Lee takes you through the multiple business models they pursued—marketplace, digital product licensing, subscription services, distribution partnerships, and more—and offers his best tips for how you, too, can build a lightweight business that supports a life you love.
A must-read for anyone interested in entrepreneurship, business strategy, and e-commerce, Big Enough arms you with insights into how technology and innovation are changing the face of business—and how the science of happiness and the pursuit of values can help redefine what it means to be successful.
Let’s face it, there is more baloney, or bad information, than ever before. We’re swimming in it and there could be more to come. From politicians to citizens who refuse to believe facts, baloney is having its time in the sun.
The question becomes: what can we do? What can we do to fight back against misinformation or disinformation? It’s a difficult question to answer. In my work as an explainer, I use clear communication and understanding as a weapon in the fight, but it’s not enough.
A problem is that all of us suffer from biases and difficulty in separating fact from fiction. When presented with new information, it’s a challenge to evaluate it and decide whether it’s trustworthy or not. That’s why Carl Sagan’s “Baloney Detection Kit” is so powerful. It equips people with the intellectual tools that scientists use to separate fact from fiction. In his 1996 book Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, he wrote:
“The kit is brought out as a matter of course whenever new ideas are offered for consideration. If the new idea survives examination by the tools in our kit, we grant it warm, although tentative, acceptance. If you’re so inclined, if you don’t want to buy baloney even when it’s reassuring to do so, there are precautions that can be taken; there’s a tried-and-true, consumer-tested method.”
Here are the points in the kit:
Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.”
Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
Arguments from authority carry little weight — “authorities” have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.
Spin more than one hypothesis. If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in this Darwinian selection among “multiple working hypotheses,” has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.
Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours. It’s only a way station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don’t, others will.
Quantify. If whatever it is you’re explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you’ll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging.
If there’s a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise) — not just most of them.
Occam’s Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler.
Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified. Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable are not worth much. Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle — an electron, say — in a much bigger Cosmos. But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe, is not the idea incapable of disproof? You must be able to check assertions out. Inveterate skeptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result.
Thanks to Brain Pickings for highlighting the kit. Read the full article for a list of Sagan’s fallacies of logic and rhetoric that accompany the points above.
What if you had to explain something very complex, like a rocket, and only use drawings and the 1000 most-used words in the English language?
That's the constraint that Randall Munroe made famous a while back when he explained a Saturn V rocket. For example, because the word "rocket" is not in the 1000 words, he called it an "up-goer" and that became the informal name for this kind of communication. You might remember a guest post by Sally James on this blog about the idea.
Mr. Munroe, whose work you may have seen on the web comic xkcd, is set to publish an entire book called Thing Explainer that explains "Complicated Stuff Using Simple Words". In fact, it's only drawings and the 1000 most-used words. I think this kind of constraint is a brilliant idea. It simply eliminates jargon and provides a new (and often hilarious) way to think about complex ideas.
Explore computer buildings (datacenters), the flat rocks we live on (tectonic plates), the things you use to steer a plane (airliner cockpit controls), and the little bags of water you're made of (cells).
Here's an example of the Mars Rover:
Want to test your skills in using the 1000 words? Try it here.
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.
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 varies 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.
If you've read one of the translated versions, I'd love to know what you think!