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The Art of Explanation: Making your Ideas, Products, and Services Easier to Understand

The Art of Explanation: Making your Ideas, Products, and Services Easier to Understand

Lee LeFever

ISBN: 978-1-118-54726-7

Nov 2012

256 pages



Your guide to becoming an explanation specialist.

You've done the hard work. Your product or service works beautifully - but something is missing.  People just don't see the big idea - and it's keeping you from being successful. Your idea has an explanation problem.

The Art of Explanation is for business people, educators and influencers who want to improve their explanation skills and start solving explanation problems.

Author Lee LeFever is the founder of Common Craft, a company known around the world for making complex ideas easy to understand through short animated videos. He is your guide to helping audiences fall in love with your ideas, products or services through better explanations in any medium. 

You will learn to: 

  • Plan: Learn explanation basics, what causes them to fail and how to diagnose explanation problems.
  • Package: Using simple elements, create an explanation strategy that builds confidence and motivates your audience. 
  • Present: Produce remarkable explanations with visuals and media. 

The Art of Explanation is your invitation to become an explanation specialist and see why explanation is now a fundamental skill for professionals.

Preface xi

Author Note xv

Introduction xvii

PART 1 Plan 1

Chapter 1 Learning to Run 3

Chapter 2 What Is an Explanation? 7

What Is Not An Explanation 8

Defining Explanation 9

Explanations Require Empathy 10

Act and Art 11

Look at Your Fish 12

Explanation Lowers the Cost of Understanding 13

An Explanation Is a Way to Package Ideas 14

Explanations Answer the Question ‘‘Why?’’ 16

Explanations Make People Care 16

Chapter 3 Why Explanations Fail 23

All About Confidence 24

Assumptions Cause Failure 24

Words Can Hurt 26

We Lack Understanding 27

We Want to Appear Smart 28

The Direct Approach—No Context 30

Summary 32

Chapter 4 Planning Your Explanations 33

Identifying Explanation Problems 34

PART 2 Package 43

Chapter 5 Packaging Ideas 45

Stepping Outside the Bubble 46

What Goes into the Packaging? 48

Chapter 6 Context 51

Forest then Trees 53

Solving the Context Problem 56

Context in Explanation—We Can All Agree 61

Context and Pain 63

Example: Google Docs 63

On the Explanation Scale 65

Summary 66

Chapter 7 Story 67

Stories Versus Facts 68

But I’m Not a Storyteller 69

Common Craft and Stories 71

The Simple Ingredient: People 73

Using Stories in Explanation 74

Basic Story Format 75

When Does Storytelling Not Work? 77

Personification and Story 79

On the Explanation Scale 81

Summary 81

Chapter 8 Connections 83

Connecting Your Long Lost Uncle—Old Versus New 84

Building-on Versus Establishing 87

Analogy 89

Common Craft Videos 90

On the Explanation Scale 92

Summary 92

Chapter 9 Description 93

Explaining Web Browsers 95

Explanation Is Not a Recipe 97

On The Explanation Scale 99

Summary 99

Chapter 10 Simplification 103

Chapter 11 Constraints 113

Common Craft and Constraints 115

Constraints and Your Explanations 117

Summary 119

Chapter 12 Preparing for and Writing an Explanation 121

The Common Craft Writing Process 122

Big Ideas 123

Research and Discovery 123

Script Writing 125

The Real Thing 128

Chapter 13 Bringing an Explanation Together 131

PART 3 Present 147

Chapter 14 Common Craft’s Lessons Learned 149

Common Craft Gets Started 149

Ten Lessons Learned from Common Craft Explanations 151

Chapter 15 Right Medium for the Message 157

A Transformation 158

Media Options 159

Presentation Modes 161

Recording and Distribution Options 164

Constraints Come to the Rescue 165

Summary 171

Chapter 16 Visuals 173

You Can Use Visuals 178

Dan Roam’s 6 × 6 Rule 178

Common Craft Visual Metaphors 186

Noise and Simplicity in Visuals 188

Infographics 191

Creating Digital Visuals 193

Summary 193

Chapter 17 Emma and Carlos 195

Epilogue 202

Chapter 18 Explanation Culture and Your Life as an Explainer 203

Your Life as An Explainer 206

Acknowledgments 209

Links to Common Craft Videos 211

About the Author 215

Bibliography 217

Index 219