Book – The Art of Explanation

explanationThis is one of the books, where every idea seem to whisper “take me to a meeting tomorrow…  your meeting will be much better.”  Ah, dear idea, you are right!  I should take you to a meeting tomorrow – and, definitely, my chances of seeing a favorable result of the meeting will be much higher 😉

The author suggests to concentrate on the “Forrest” before starting to talk about the “trees,” to explain major concepts before diving into specific points.  (Hm…  European educational system I experienced as a child was based on this principle – and math was considered easy while history was considered hard 🙂 ).

Another interesting point (which does not come with any educational system, I guess) is the nature of the question “What is it?”  The question is not “What is it?” but “How can it help me?”  A person who is asking “What is RSS?” does not want to know how RSS functions, but rather how useful can it be for his or her life.

Why is it difficult to explain basic things?  The curse of knowledge…  (Ubiquitous tune tapping experiment) – a new person joining the company often does not hear the tune of company culture and process, but just “tap.. tap… tap.”

In most situations requiring explanations, the target audience is somewhere in the range of understanding the topic.  Low understanding is A, and high understanding is Z, and the range of the understanding can be represented by an alphabet.  The goal of the explanation is to move the people at A further to the direction of Z; we can not start explaining from L if majority of the target audience understand the problem somewhere around C.


How to move your audience from A to Z?

1. Agreement

Statement that is obvious for the audience (we can all agree that gas prices are rising)

2. Context

Moving the points we agreed upon into specific context (more of your hard-earned income is going to pay for transportation)

3. Story

A person who is experiencing a change in perception (Met Sally, she is tired to pay for gas and looked for alternatives; look what she found…)

4. Connections

Analogies and ideas that people already understand (Sally could see that taking a bus was like multitasking – she could commute and work at the same time)

5. Description “how” – Sally saved $20 a week

6. Conclusion – summary – next step  (next time gas prices increase, remember…)

The author’s company Common Craft produced a very interesting collection of “explanation videos” that explain complex topics in a very understandable terms.

Explanation of social media on a ice-cream analogy


Augmented reality explanation

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