Art of Explanation
English teacher Alex Quigley (@HuntingEnglish) recently shared his top ten explanation tips: A few gems: 1. ‘Know what the students know’ when planning your explanation: All great teachers have an excellent knowledge of their students. This knowledge is paramount in pitching the explanation just right. Vygotsky’s ‘zone of proximal development’ is key here – the explanation should be matched to the audience: not too complex as to be unintelligible to the students, but not too simple or... Continue Reading
Marketing genius and author Seth Godin recently wrote about the use of analogy in educating others and frames an idea that's near and dear to my heart: Marketing, like all forms of art, requires us to learn to see. To see what's working and to transplant it, change it and amplify it. We don't teach this, but we should. We don't push people to practice the act of learning by analogy, because it's way easier to just give them a manual and help them avoid thinking for themselves. The... Continue Reading
Jason Kottke pointed me to a passage from the Kurt Vonnegut novel Bluebeard, where he outlines the three types of specialists that are needed for success in a revolution. Remarkably, one is an explainer. Here’s the passage: Slazinger claims to have learned from history that most people cannot open their minds to new ideas unless a mind-opening teams with a peculiar membership goes to work on them. Otherwise, life will go on exactly as before, no matter how painful, unrealistic, unjust,... Continue Reading
About 6 months ago, my first book was published: The Art of Explanation. Being my first, I didn’t know what to expect from the process, the reviews, the sales, the marketing. Thankfully I found my way through and now have some information on how it’s been received. First, let me start by offering a HUGE thanks to all the people who have purchased the book. You rock. I wish I could thank you more personally. I hope it has helped you think differently about how you communicate. So how IS the... Continue Reading
Think for just a minute about the skills you use every day at work. Maybe you’re a designer or engineer who had specialized training and tools. Maybe you’re an executive who has a talent for building teams. Or maybe you’re a Mom or Dad who works to help your child understand the world. No matter what you do for work, you are an explainer. Part of your job is helping others understand ideas - it’s a fundamental part of being a professional. We explain ideas every day - we just never think... Continue Reading
When I talk about explanation skills, I often hear a common response: “Boy do I know someone who needs that!” Over time I’ve found that, often, this person in need is a scientist or research professor who can’t seem to explain their work or current projects in an understandable way. It’s a fascinating paradox. You could reason that the most informed people would have the best explanations, but it’s not often the case. Many times, the inverse is true. As I first learned in the book Made to... Continue Reading
Moe Abdou is the founder of 33 Voices, a website and interview series that focuses on entrepreneurs, business success and life. Recently he interviewed me about the Art of Explanation. The interview is about 25 minutes long and covers a lot of ground. Have a listen. I love doing interviews like this. If you have a podcast or website and are looking for guests, please let me know. I have a lot to say about entrepreneurship, communication and creativity.
My nephew Jimmy LeFever made this woodcut version of me and Sachi. We think it's pretty cool.
Recently Ian Tucker sat down with a group of the world’s top science writers at the Royal Society’s annual book prize event in London. The results of the interview are filled with gems of insight and humor that frame how these writers think about explanation and making ideas easier to understand. The first addresses a question I hear often - how do you explain something without talking down to people? Tucker asks the question in this form: When you are writing where do you set the difficulty... Continue Reading
Step 1. Forget about your audience’s needs. Their needs don’t matter. Your job isn’t to help them, it’s to make yourself look smart. This is all about you. Step 2. Make tons of assumptions. Assume everyone in the room knows exactly what you know or more. Find ways to save time by skipping the big picture and context. Head straight for the details. Step 3. Use lots of jargon and unfamiliar words. Since everyone in the room knows what you know, you can feel free to be loquacious in your... Continue Reading