Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Two Laws of Explanation 

via ongoing The First Law When you’re explaining something to somebody and they don’t get it, that’s not their problem, it’s your problem. The practical take-away from this law is that for anything that’s deep enough to matter, you’re going to have to do a lot of explaining, and you absolutely totally can’t afford to get impatient or irritated when it isn’t going fast enough, you just have to explain better. This is difficult, but not all that difficult. People who can’t get their message across usually don’t get too far in this world, so anyone who’s making an impact almost by necessity combines the articulateness and patience to (eventually) get the job done. The Second Law When someone’s explaining something to you and you’re not getting it, it’s not your problem, it’s their problem. The practical take-away is that you have to be totally courageous and truthful in saying “I don’t understand; please explain again.” Otherwise you won’t get the message and you’ll be the loser. This actually turns out to be pretty hard; a lot of people, in particular young people, find it painful to admit they don’t understand. When, sometime in my thirties, I realized that I had enough experience and accomplishments that if I didn’t get something it was OK to just say so, my quality of life got way better. And I wish that I’d had that courage in my twenties, when I tried to fake my way through a lot of things I didn’t understand; it even worked sometimes, but it really sucked.

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