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The Art of Explanation with Lee Lefever
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The Art of Explanation with Lee Lefever

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With Lee Lefever. ...

With Lee Lefever.

Professionals explain ideas every day, but we rarely take a step back and consider how to make ourselves more understandable. Lee LeFever will help you take a fresh look at what makes explanations work (or not), how to solve explanation problems and put explanations to work in creating positive change.

Speaker Bio

Lee LeFever (@LeeLefever) is the Founder of Common Craft (@CommonCraft) and author of The Art of Explanation. Since 2007 Common Craft has won numerous awards, created explanations for the world’s most respected brands and earned over 50 million online video views. Today, Common Craft’s mission is to make the world a more understandable place by inspiring professionals to become better explainers.

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  • In about 2004 I had an epiphany that is the reason I am here speaking with you today. At the time I was a struggling independent consultant. Common Craft was less than a year old and I my field of consultation was new - what we’d now called Social Media consulting. As you can imagine, consulting on social media 10 years ago depended on a lot explanation.
  • I remember the exact moment when it first became apparent to me that there was such a thing as an explanation problem. I was at a small conference on Silicon Valley in early 2004. There was a CEO of a start up there and during his talk, he mentioned RSS. Now some of you may recognize the name – it stands for really simple syndication. It makes it easy to subscribe to a website so that new items that are published come to you.Someone raised their hand and asked the question "What is RSS?” This CEO's responses to the question, and I'm not kidding, was "RSS is an XML-based content syndication format." This response was accurate, succinct and completely useless to everyone in the room. It was an AHA! moment for me. It was suddenly clear that RSS was like many other technologies that would soon be a part of the social media revolution. It was well designed, useful and free, but not being adopted. For the first time, I saw that the problem was explanation. No one was able to explain these new tools in a language that sounded familiar.
  • This is when I first discovered a new kind of problem - an explanation problem. This is a problem that is caused by a mismatch between our language and the language the audience needs to understand an idea. Essentially, we assume we’re using familiar, understandable language, but our audience doesn’t feel the same. They’re lost and we don’t know it.What I had seen at the conference was an explanation problem at work. The presenter clearly assumed he had answered the question, but the audience didn’t. This was a problem and I needed to know more. Why was this so hard? What causes these explanation problems? What can be done.
  • Soon after I read a book that I highly recommend called Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. This book introduced me to a concept that I think is the most powerful in understanding why explanations are so hard. In the book they build on the idea through a a fascinating study by Elizabeth Newton at Stanford.
  • In 1990, a Stanford University graduate student in psychology named Elizabeth Newton illustrated the curse of knowledge by studying a simple game in which she assigned people to one of two roles: “tapper” or “listener.” Each tapper was asked to pick a well-known song, such as “Happy Birthday,” and tap out the rhythm on a table. The listener’s job was to guess the song.
  • Over the course of Newton’s experiment, 120 songs were tapped out. Listeners guessed only three of the songs correctly: a success ratio of 2.5%. But before they guessed, Newton asked the tappers to predict the probability that listeners would guess correctly. They predicted 50%. The tappers got their message across one time in 40, but they thought they would get it across one time in two. Why?When a tapper taps, it is impossible for her to avoid hearing the tune playing along to her taps. Meanwhile, all the listener can hear is a kind of bizarre Morse code. Yet the tappers were flabbergasted by how hard the listeners had to work to pick up the tune.The problem is that once we know something—say, the melody of a song—we find it hard to imagine not knowing it. Our knowledge has “cursed” us. We have difficulty sharing it with others, because we can’t readily re-create their state of mind.
  • So here was the epiphany: My experience at the conference and noticing the explanation problem was connected directly with this idea of the curse of knowledge. The CEO who spoke was so cursed with knowledge he couldn’t make RSS understandable.He tapping away, assuming that most people were getting it, but they weren’t.The Curse of Knowledge is one of the major culprits of explanation problems.
  • Now, this might sound all too familiar. The world of finance is famous for having it’s own language. And it should. Professionals in all industries need specific and sometimes complex languages for internal communication. Just like our CEO, there are situations in which the song is understandable. But the risk is that you’re tapping along, thinking everything is fine, but your audience is only hearing the words with no meaning. What are some of the things that confuse your clients? What is your RSS?
  • The rest of my talk will focus on avoiding this risk. By understanding the role of explanation more completely, we can identify the problems and build explanations that work for the intended audience. We can use explanation as tool for ensuring that our audience stays confident and engaged.
  • Before getting there, let’s talk a bit about what an explanation is. If you pay attention, you’ll see that most explanations can boiled down to answering a single question - “why?” Why does this make sense? Why should I care? Why does this matter? It’s a fundamental part of how we make sense of the world and make things more understandable. Explanations answer the question - why?This is one of things I think makes explanation unique. As opposed to focusing on how to do something, explanation focuses on why it makes sense to do something. In this way, it’s a motivator and something has the potential to make people care. But it’s not enough to simply answer the why question. How you answer the question matters. Here’s one way to think about it... The best explanations increase understanding. That’s what we all want, right, to understand something.
  • One of the best recent examples of something suffering from a huge explanation problem is Bitcoin. It came into the mainstream and caused mass confusion – and it is an incredibly difficult thing to understand – and explain. This is not going to stop – more and more products and ideas are going to need better explanations. This is the world we live in. Understanding
  • In reality, the cards are stacked against us.
  • Before diving in, you might be wondering how I got to be an expert in something like explanation – there are no courses you can take. Starting with the RSS example, I decided to become an explainer and I spent a lot of time writing explanations and understanding what makes them work - or not. In 2006 my wife Sachi and I started making short animated videos with one purpose: explanation. We had no plan or expectations for the videos, but they became very popular. The first title: RSS in Plain English and many say it was the first explainer video of the YouTube age.Within a couple of years, Common Craft became known around the world for our explainer videos, which have been viewed over 50 million times online. We’ve been hired to solve explanation problems for brands like Google, Intel, Ford and others.Through it all, I’ve made it my mission to try to figure out what makes explanations work or not work. And that’s what we’re going to do today - explore the world of explanation and how we can solve explanation problems. Some of what we’ll discuss today is in a book I wrote called The Art of Explanation - making your ideas products and services easy to understand. Since writing the book, I’ve realized something important. I’ve been so focused on the idea of explanation, but what really matters, where the rubber truly hits the road is way down at the end of the title: it’s understanding. The explanation part is simply a means to an end - what we all want to is to be more understandable. That’s what I hope you’ll get out of my talk today. How to use explanations to be more understandable.
  • For most people, explaining ideas is just built-in part of how we communicate. We never take a step back and think about what makes an explanation work, or how we might be able to make an idea more understandable. Our explanations just happen like the way we brush our teeth or use a computer. That’s one of the big things I hope you’ll take from our time together today - that the first step to being understandable is the realization that improvement is possible.
  • We worry about condescension. Everyone knows the feeling of having someone explain something to you like you’re an idiot. It’s a horrible feeling and one that we work hard to avoid.On the web a new term has arisen called “Mansplaining”. It’s a reference to the way car mechanics are known to talk to women. Today you see it in politics where a male political behaves condescendingly to someone else, usually a female. In working to solve explanation problems, you never want to be a mansplainer.
  • This comes from the perception that explanation means dumbing down or simplifying an idea to a level that everyone can understand it. It’s not true. Explanation, like so many other things, depends on context - it depends on the audience and every explanation may be different. As we’ll see in a minute, explanation depends not on the simple, but the familiar. To explain effectively we must communicate using familiar language.
  • Accuracy and Defensibility - When I talk to people about explanation skills I often hear “boy, I know someone who needs that!” and it’s often someone who is known be intelligent and accomplished in their field. Often it’s a scientist or academic. It should not be a surprise that these individuals have difficulty in explanation - their training has taught them to focus on accuracy and defensibility - things that must go along with their work. Language is an expression of expertise.Oxford English professor emeritus Peter Elbow wrote about this phenomenon and made the point throughout his academic career, his writing has been influenced by professors who seek to poke holes in his ideas. He says”“Have you considered” is the favorite knee-jerk response of academics to any idea. As a result, we learn as students to clog up our writing with added clauses and phrases to keep them from being attacked.This causes the students to create sentences that follow a pattern like:X, and yet on the other hand Y, yet nevertheless X in certain respects, while at the same time Y in other respects.I’m sure you’ve seen what I mean. This is defensibility - your ideas are only as valid as they are accurate and defensible. We all do this every day. No one likes the feeling of having another person point out an error your logic or a contradiction in your argument. So we learn communicate ideas in a defensible way - to make sure that we’re completely accurate and have covered every detail.In academia and other places this is necessary and rewarded. But when the goal is understanding, when we’re trying to relate an idea to make it understandable, a priority of complete accuracy can get in the way. We have to trade accuracy for basic understanding.Again, explanations are contextual. To be successful, we have to consider our audience and what is going to work for them.
  • Accuracy and Defensibility - When I talk to people about explanation skills I often hear “boy, I know someone who needs that!” and it’s often someone who is known be intelligent and accomplished in their field. Often it’s a scientist or academic. It should not be a surprise that these individuals have difficulty in explanation - their training has taught them to focus on accuracy and defensibility - things that must go along with their work. Language is an expression of expertise.Oxford English professor emeritus Peter Elbow wrote about this phenomenon and made the point throughout his academic career, his writing has been influenced by professors who seek to poke holes in his ideas. He says”“Have you considered” is the favorite knee-jerk response of academics to any idea. As a result, we learn as students to clog up our writing with added clauses and phrases to keep them from being attacked.This causes the students to create sentences that follow a pattern like:X, and yet on the other hand Y, yet nevertheless X in certain respects, while at the same time Y in other respects.I’m sure you’ve seen what I mean. This is defensibility - your ideas are only as valid as they are accurate and defensible. We all do this every day. No one likes the feeling of having another person point out an error your logic or a contradiction in your argument. So we learn communicate ideas in a defensible way - to make sure that we’re completely accurate and have covered every detail.In academia and other places this is necessary and rewarded. But when the goal is understanding, when we’re trying to relate an idea to make it understandable, a priority of complete accuracy can get in the way. We have to trade accuracy for basic understanding.Again, explanations are contextual. To be successful, we have to consider our audience and what is going to work for them.
  • Where are you? What does the audience expect? What is appropriate in this situation?
  • What is it like in their shoes? What are their needs? How do my words sound to them? What will they remember What will make them care?Driving directions example
  • What is it like in their shoes? What are their needs? How do my words sound to them? What will they remember What will make them care?Driving directions example
  • What is it like in their shoes? What are their needs? How do my words sound to them? What will they remember What will make them care?Driving directions example
  • What is it like in their shoes? What are their needs? How do my words sound to them? What will they remember What will make them care?Driving directions example
  • What is it like in their shoes? What are their needs? How do my words sound to them? What will they remember What will make them care?Driving directions example
  • It’s not about dumbing down or simplicity, it’s about familiarity.
  • As I’ve said before, explanation is one of these things we do all the time. We never think about it, much less plan one. In the process of making Common Craft videos, we developed a really simple model that helped us think through the explanation and plan it around an audience’s needs. We call it the Explanation Scale. It’s a simple scale from A to Z that represents levels of understanding of a specific subject. The “A” end of the scale relates to less understanding, the “Z” is more understanding.
  • The idea is to plot the audience and specific ideas on the scale so that you can talk through a strategy for explaining an idea. The main goal is to move the audience down it – toward the Z end of the scale, toward more understanding.
  • Here’s an example. Let’s say that you’re an executive at a company and you’ve just come out of a planning session. The company is going in a new direction and it’s your job to explain the change to your direct reports. You realize that this is a chance to put your explanation skills to work, so you take a step back and think about how to make it more understandable.
  • You start by quickly drawing the explanation scale. Your first step is to plot the audience’s current level of understanding on the scale. Maybe a couple of colleagues help.You decide that, for this subject, the audience is at about “G” on the scale. They understand a little, but have a lot to learn. Next you consider how much you want them to understand. With “Z” being complete understanding, you figure they need to be at about “V” – they don’t need to know everything. So, the goal of the explanation is to move them from “G” to “V”. Of course, the next question is - how?
  • Before getting into the nitty gritty, let’s add an idea to the scale. A good rule of thumb in explanation is to focus on a couple of question in a particular order. They are “why” and “how” – as in – why should I care? Why does this make sense? And “how does it work?” or “how do I use this?” It’s a balance - here’s how that looks on the scale. If you plot someone on the “A” side, your explanation should focus on the “Why” more than “How”. The idea is new to them and they may struggle to understand in the beginning. If you plot someone on the “Z”, they have a good level of understanding and are likely to be more focused on “how” and the details of how it works.You can see that the scale helps us think through the big structure of our explanation – the balance of why and how.In the beginning of an explanation, the “why” matters most. We need the audience to be engaged and see why they should care.
  • Here’s another way you can think about it. The balance of why vs. how also relates to details. You might think about the scale going from big ideas to details, in that order. Too many details in the beginning, at the A end of the scale may cause your message to get lost.
  • So now we have a structure and a basic plan in place. We believe the audience is starting at G. The question becomes – how will we get them down the scale? In this situation, our priority is creating and sustaining confidence. Without it, our explanation will fail.
  • I like to think about it in terms of stepping stones. Explaining our subject means offering the audience small, achievable steps down the scale. Let’s talk about those stepping stones…13 minutes
  • The question is: how? How do you build context and agreement? A couple of ideas:Offer a few statements that are not controversial and are designed to cause heads to nod. I call these “we can all agree” statements. We can all agree that the weather has been cold lately. We can all agree that computers are important for businesses. These statements frame the subject matter.Next we can take this simple idea and apply it to a big picture idea or problem.
  • This is building context – a time to focus on the environment where ideas before talking about the ideas themselves. Here’s one way to look at it - Talk about the forest first, on the A side, then talk about the trees. By starting with the forest, we can help the trees become even more useful.
  • Recently I became familiar with someone’s work whom I now consider the godfather of video education and explanation. His name was Henry Jamison Handy – known as Jam Handy. Along with being an Olympic swimmer, he created 1000s of videos in the his lifetime, many of which were educational.
  • In 1937, his company worked with Chevrolet to create a video about the differential gear. Now, if you’re like most people, this sounds amazingly boring and dry. If you look at a diagram it looks really complicated. But Mr. Handy created a video that explained the differential gear in a remarkably effective way. Rather than dive right into the mechanics of the gear himself, he took time to build context and agreement. Let’s take a look…
  • You can see that this video spends a bit of time not focusing on the gear – but why it makes sense that the gear exists. This is the forest – the why. Once he can help people see why it’s needed, the more technical side has more meaning.
  • You can see that this video spends a bit of time not focusing on the gear – but why it makes sense that the gear exists. This is the forest – the why. Once he can help people see why it’s needed, the more technical side has more meaning.
  • So we have our first stepping stone on the scale – context.
  • One of the most effective ways I’ve found to relate an explanation is through a story – and before going to much further, I want to take a step back and talk about our approach to story, because everyone looks at it a little differently.
  • Some of you may have notions about stories that are like the stories we read in book and watch on TV. These stories have compelling characters and follow a hero’s inspiring journey. We love to read and experience these kinds of stories, but creating them can be intimidating. Most of us want to leave these kinds of stories to the professionals.
  • Second, we can offer an example that relates to the real world. Stories have a way of taking ideas and facts and bringing them down to earth in a way that feels natural. This helps us move from fact-telling to storytelling. Here’s an example…
  • Fortunately, stories come in many flavors and in the context of an explanation, they can be very simple. In fact most stories in explanations follow the same basic outline:Meet Bob, he’s like youBob has a problem, he feels badNow he found a solution and feels goodDon’t you want to feel like Bob?It’s really simple. We don’t need to know Bob’s back-story or what motivates him. We don’t need plot twists or exotic locations. These kinds of stories really only need to show a person trying something new and experiencing a change in perspective.
  • By wrapping our ideas in a story we can accomplish a couple of things:First, we can offer the audience a change to empathize with our character. We want them to see themselves in the character and imagine what it feels like to solve the same problem. We want them to say “I know that feeling!” so the solution appears obvious.
  • Second, we can offer an example that relates to the real world. Stories have a way of taking ideas and facts and bringing them down to earth in a way that feels natural. This helps us move from fact-telling to storytelling. Here’s an example…
  • Now we’re moving more towards the middle with Story on the scale.
  • Another key to making an idea easy to understand is to connect it to an something that the audience already understands.
  • A famous example of this relates to the 1979 movie Aliens starring Sigourney Weaver. Just a few year before, the movie Jaws had been a smash hit and everyone knew about it.
  • The story goes that Aliens was pitched to studios using three simple words – Jaws in Space.This is a connection. Everyone knew Jaws and could imagine what a movie with a similar plot could become in the context of space.
  • Often, the best way to make a connection is through an analogy – a comparison between two things that shows something in common. The basic idea is to say that if you understand X, then understanding Y is easy. If you understand the how the alphabet combines to make words, then understanding computer programming is not that different – it’s a language.
  • Recently I was listening to one of favorite radio shows and podcasts – The American Life, hosted by Ira Glass. This episode was called Back to School and it included an interview with Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, who had done really interesting research about the impact of being poor on brain development. During the interview, she explained the big idea using a connection that blew me away.I want to play part of the story, but first a bit of context… In the discussion, she talked about the problems that poor children have in school and the possible reasons why. But in addition to all the bad things that are likely to happen to them as adults, there's also the effect that long-term stress has on them when they're still kids, especially on their brains and their ability to learn.Nadine Burke HarrisIf you look on the molecular level, you're walking through the forest and you see a bear, right? So you can either fight the bear or run from the bear. That's kind of your fight or flight system. Right?Ira GlassRight.Nadine Burke HarrisAnd your body releases a ton of adrenalin, right? Which is your short-term stress hormone, and something else called cortisol, which tends to be more of a long-term stress hormone. And this dilates your pupils, gets your heart beating fast. Your skin gets cold and clammy. That's because you're shunting blood from anywhere that isn't absolutely necessary to the muscles that you need to be able to run from that bear.The other thing that it does-- now, you can imagine that if you're about to fight a bear, you need some gumption to fight that bear, right? So it kind of shuts off the thinking portion of your brain, right? That executive function cognitive part. And it turns on the real primal aggression and the things that you need to be able to think that you're going to go into a fight with a bear and come out on the winning side.Ira GlassYeah.Nadine Burke HarrisAnd that's really good if you're in a forest and there's a bear. The problem is when that bear comes home from the bar every night. Right? And for a lot of these kids, what happens is that this system, this fight or flight response, which is an emergency response in your body, it's activated over and over and over again. And so that's what we were seeing in the kids that I was caring for.Isn’t that an amazing explanation? By connecting the experience and physical changes that come with fighting a bear (something we can image) to the real world life of a child, we can see the child’s development from a new perspective. So good.
  • Recently I was listening to one of favorite radio shows and podcasts – The American Life, hosted by Ira Glass. This episode was called Back to School and it included an interview with Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, who had done really interesting research about the impact of being poor on brain development. During the interview, she explained the big idea using a connection that blew me away.I want to play part of the story, but first a bit of context… In the discussion, she talked about the problems that poor children have in school and the possible reasons why. But in addition to all the bad things that are likely to happen to them as adults, there's also the effect that long-term stress has on them when they're still kids, especially on their brains and their ability to learn.Nadine Burke HarrisIf you look on the molecular level, you're walking through the forest and you see a bear, right? So you can either fight the bear or run from the bear. That's kind of your fight or flight system. Right?Ira GlassRight.Nadine Burke HarrisAnd your body releases a ton of adrenalin, right? Which is your short-term stress hormone, and something else called cortisol, which tends to be more of a long-term stress hormone. And this dilates your pupils, gets your heart beating fast. Your skin gets cold and clammy. That's because you're shunting blood from anywhere that isn't absolutely necessary to the muscles that you need to be able to run from that bear.The other thing that it does-- now, you can imagine that if you're about to fight a bear, you need some gumption to fight that bear, right? So it kind of shuts off the thinking portion of your brain, right? That executive function cognitive part. And it turns on the real primal aggression and the things that you need to be able to think that you're going to go into a fight with a bear and come out on the winning side.Ira GlassYeah.Nadine Burke HarrisAnd that's really good if you're in a forest and there's a bear. The problem is when that bear comes home from the bar every night. Right? And for a lot of these kids, what happens is that this system, this fight or flight response, which is an emergency response in your body, it's activated over and over and over again. And so that's what we were seeing in the kids that I was caring for.Isn’t that an amazing explanation? By connecting the experience and physical changes that come with fighting a bear (something we can image) to the real world life of a child, we can see the child’s development from a new perspective. So good.
  • Now we’re moving more towards the middle with Story on the scale.
  • Often, the best way to make a connection is through an analogy – a comparison between two things that shows something in common. The basic idea is to say that if you understand X, then understanding Y is easy. If you understand the how the alphabet combines to make words, then understanding computer programming is not that different – it’s a language.
  • Often, the best way to make a connection is through an analogy – a comparison between two things that shows something in common. The basic idea is to say that if you understand X, then understanding Y is easy. If you understand the how the alphabet combines to make words, then understanding computer programming is not that different – it’s a language.
  • Often, the best way to make a connection is through an analogy – a comparison between two things that shows something in common. The basic idea is to say that if you understand X, then understanding Y is easy. If you understand the how the alphabet combines to make words, then understanding computer programming is not that different – it’s a language.
  • Often, the best way to make a connection is through an analogy – a comparison between two things that shows something in common. The basic idea is to say that if you understand X, then understanding Y is easy. If you understand the how the alphabet combines to make words, then understanding computer programming is not that different – it’s a language.
  • Often, the best way to make a connection is through an analogy – a comparison between two things that shows something in common. The basic idea is to say that if you understand X, then understanding Y is easy. If you understand the how the alphabet combines to make words, then understanding computer programming is not that different – it’s a language.
  • Now we’re moving more towards the middle with Story on the scale.
  • Let’s take a look at an example of how my company explained a product using some of these ideas in a short video.My company Common Craft has been creating explanations since 2007 and I want to use a well-known video to walk through a few points that make explanations work.  About 3.5 years ago the founders of Dropbox approached us about making a video that explains the product. After diving in, it became clear that Dropbox had a real explanation problem. The tool itself was very simple and it once you see it work, the value was clear, but it was a very difficult thing to introduce. Getting people from nothing to the aha! moment was a challenge because few people had ever imagined a product like it.
  • The explanation first minute of the video. Here’s how we open the video :You know how it feels to forget something like a wallet, phone or keys. It feels like a part of your life is missing, along with the things you need. In the real world you have to plan ahead to prevent problems.  This builds Agreement and Context.  By starting with an example that everyone has experienced, we can provide them an easy first step.  Everyone knows the feeling of forgetting your wallet and it sucks.  We’ve invited them to think about the world in terms of a problem that’s familiar and evokes emotion.
  • The explanation first minute of the video. Here’s how we open the video :You know how it feels to forget something like a wallet, phone or keys. It feels like a part of your life is missing, along with the things you need. In the real world you have to plan ahead to prevent problems.  This builds Agreement and Context.  By starting with an example that everyone has experienced, we can provide them an easy first step.  Everyone knows the feeling of forgetting your wallet and it sucks.  We’ve invited them to think about the world in terms of a problem that’s familiar and evokes emotion.
  • Next we simply Connect to this real world feeling to the big idea of Dropbox. But these days the important stuff we keep on computers and phones can be there for you, wherever you are. Files saved on one computer can now be saved on all your computers and phones automatically. This is the big idea behind dropbox.
  • Next we simply Connect to this real world feeling to the big idea of Dropbox. But these days the important stuff we keep on computers and phones can be there for you, wherever you are. Files saved on one computer can now be saved on all your computers and phones automatically. This is the big idea behind dropbox.
  • But that’s not enough. We also need to see it in action and to do that, we’ll share a story about someone who uses it successfully. We want the audience to empathize with our character Josh and feel his pain. The best way to do that is to build context and talk about the problem. Let’s meet Josh, who is preparing for a big trip to Africa. Right now all of his trip info is spread across his desktop, laptop and phone. He wants to bring it all with him and is tired of having to email files to himself. Then a friend told him about dropbox, which creates a new kind of folder on his computers.Can’t you feel his pain?By seeing the world through Josh’s eyes, we can see ourselves solving similar problems.  Again, this is empathy and it’s the key to engaging explanations. The rest of the video explains how Josh uses the basic features to be happy and productive.  You can watch it at Dropbox.com
  • But that’s not enough. We also need to see it in action and to do that, we’ll share a story about someone who uses it successfully. We want the audience to empathize with our character Josh and feel his pain. The best way to do that is to build context and talk about the problem. Let’s meet Josh, who is preparing for a big trip to Africa. Right now all of his trip info is spread across his desktop, laptop and phone. He wants to bring it all with him and is tired of having to email files to himself. Then a friend told him about dropbox, which creates a new kind of folder on his computers.Can’t you feel his pain?By seeing the world through Josh’s eyes, we can see ourselves solving similar problems.  Again, this is empathy and it’s the key to engaging explanations. The rest of the video explains how Josh uses the basic features to be happy and productive.  You can watch it at Dropbox.com

The Art of Explanation with Lee Lefever The Art of Explanation with Lee Lefever Presentation Transcript

  • Solving Explanation Problems Lee LeFever Common Craft @leelefever NetSquared Vancouver // May 9, 2014
  • An Epiphany
  • RSS and Explanation RSS is… “XML-based Content Syndication Format” ? ? ? ?
  • An Explanation Problem Language ? ? ? ?
  • The Curse of Knowledge Study by Elizabeth Newton at Stanford (1990)
  • The Curse of Knowledge Tapper Listener
  • The Curse of Knowledge 120 Songs Tapped 50%? 2.5% 3 Songs Guessed
  • Tap Tap Tap 50%? RSS is… ???? ??
  • Applied to Technology SSL Encryption Application Programming Interface Cloud-Based Platform CPU
  • The Risk is Serious You’ve heard the song so much, you can’t imagine others not hearing it. Your audience nods and smiles, afraid to look ignorant or uninformed.
  • The Risk is Serious They find someone who will help them feel confident by helping them understand. When it comes time to make a decision, they feel lose confidence
  • A Solution is Explanation
  • What is an explanation? Increase Understanding Why?
  • The Need is Huge & Growing
  • Why is explanation so hard? “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place” ~George Bernard Shaw
  • Me and Common Craft
  • A Serious Note
  • A Serious Note
  • A Journey Forces Pillars Path
  • Forces Work Against Us
  • We never consider improvement.
  • Worry About Condescension
  • Worry About Condescension Explanation Dumbed-down “Treat people as though they are as smart as you, but not as informed”
  • Focus on Defensibility
  • A Balance Accuracy Understanding
  • Analogies “Analogies, it is true, decide nothing, but they can make one feel more at home.” Sigmund Freud
  • We Don’t Code Switch ?
  • The Forces Improvement Isn’t Considered Worry About Condescension Focus on Defensibility We Don’t Code Switch
  • The Journey Forces Pillars
  • The Big Picture Audience Empathy Language
  • Audience To Whom am I Speaking? What is Expected? What is Success? What’s the Goal?
  • Empathy Speaker: Dr. Brené Brown Animation: Katy Davis RSA Shorts www.thersa.com
  • Empathy Speaker: Dr. Brené Brown Animation: Katy Davis RSA Shorts www.thersa.com
  • Empathy • Perspective Taking • Staying Out of Judgment • Recognizing Emotion in Others • Communicating That Recognition 4 Qualities of Empathy Theresa Wiseman
  • Empathy The Explainer-in-Chief
  • Language What language is familiar to my Audience?
  • The Big Picture Audience Empathy Language
  • The Journey Forces Pillars Path
  • Back Down to Earth Explanation Strategies Path to Understanding
  • I understand very little I understand some basics I have a strong understanding Explanation Scale
  • Move From A to Z
  • Communicate a Big Change
  • A ZG V Meet and Plan
  • Explanation Scale
  • Big Ideas Details Big Ideas to Details
  • • Start with big ideas and focus on “why” • Then add details and focus on “how” A Framework
  • Stepping Stones
  • We can all agree… You know this idea… We Can All Agree
  • Context: Forest First – Then Trees
  • Meet Jam Handy Jam Handy (1886 -1983)
  • Differential Gear
  • An Example – Differential Gear Originally produced for Chevrolet by Jam Handy Organization (1937) Licensing: Public Domain.
  • An Example – Differential Gear Originally produced for Chevrolet by Jam Handy Organization (1937) Licensing: Public Domain.
  • Context and Agreement Context Ask Yourself: Am I talking about the forest or the trees? Does this audience understand the forest?
  • Story
  • Story
  • A $10 Bet An Entire Story in 6 Words
  • Story For Sale: Baby Shoes Never Worn
  • Story
  • Story Go Bob! He’s Like Me
  • Story
  • Story Context Story Ask Yourself: Would this make more sense if you included a person’s experience?
  • Connections
  • Connections Alien (1979)
  • Connections Jaws in Space
  • Connections Analogy
  • Diversification Bond Real Estate ✔ ✔
  • Connections Dr. Nadine Burke Harris thisamericanlife.org “Back to School” Ep. #474
  • Connections Dr. Nadine Burke Harris thisamericanlife.org “Back to School” Ep. #474
  • Connect Ideas Context Story Ask Yourself: Can I connect this idea to something the audience already understands? Connect
  • Description On the “Z” Side of the Scale
  • Description Recipe Eggs Butter Milk Baking Powder Why?
  • Description - Directive
  • Description - Directive
  • Description - Directive Why?
  • Description Context Story Connect Describe Ask Yourself: Can I describe how to do something and answer the question “Why?”
  • Where We’ve Been Forces Pillars Path
  • Explaining Dropbox
  • Hate that feeling! Context Agreement
  • Hate that feeling! Context Agreement
  • That makes sense.I see now! Connections
  • That makes sense.I see now! Connections
  • Go Josh! He’s Like Me Story
  • Go Josh! He’s Like Me Story
  • Look for Explanation Problems This idea is not getting through to me. That sounds like a foreign language.
  • Remember the Curse
  • The Goal - Understanding Increase Understanding Why? Why does this matter? Why should I care? Why does this make sense?
  • Write it Down Start Writing.
  • The Forces Improvement Condescension Defensibility Code Switching
  • The Big Picture Forces Pillars Path
  • Execute Context Story Connect Describe
  • Thank You! Lee LeFever •lee@commoncraft.com • @leelefever •commoncraft.com • @commoncraft