Recently, I began working with a medical doctor. He has written quite a few articles. He thinks it should be easy to read all 60 – 70 articles, know what it means, and summarize them. In this nugget, I’m sharing with you a few insights I’ve gained about “how to simplify an expert’s knowledge so that someone else can understand it.” I even pulled out my own dissertation to make my point.
The headline is “simplifying what an expert knows so that someone else can understand it.”
I was talking to a medical doctor. He has written quite a few articles. He thinks it should be easy to read all 60 – 70 articles, know what it means, and summarize them. Can’t you do that in a week, 60 or 70 articles?
I mentioned to him that there are terms in these articles over which a layman trips, i.e., somebody who is not a medical doctor but might be smart in another area. As an expert, you don’t even realize that other people trip over these expert terms.
I was a bit cheeky and suggested to him, how about I give you my dissertation? Do you see it? It says on the cover, “Rhodium Olefin Complexes: Study of molecular motion in the solid-state and characterization of rhodium hybrid catalyst systems.” I hope that’s all clear to you what that means. 🙂
If I were to read to you just the first sentences of the abstract, your eyes might glaze over. This dissertation describes two studies that involve rhodium olefin complexes. Now, stop right there.
- What is the rhodium olefin complex? What is rhodium?
- Okay. It’s a transition metal.
- What’s a transition metal?
There’s A Whole Art In Explaining Something Simply
You see, there’s a whole art in explaining something simply. If I had to explain to you at least one of the studies in here, I would say that it has something to do with studying how catalysts work.
- You know, for example, about catalysts in your car.
- Catalysts will take some of the gases that are produced when you burn fuel and make them into less harmful gases that come out of the exhaust.
- The catalyst will accelerate this reaction.
- We wanted to understand how exactly the catalyst does its job.
- In a nutshell, that is what one of my studies was about.
There is an art to simplifying something complex.
I sometimes give the analogy of a LEGO robot with motors, gears, and sensors. You might have to bring it down to say the Duplo level, i.e., the big Lego pieces that toddlers play with.
The level you go for all depends on who’s the recipient.
- What prior knowledge do they have?
- How deep do they even want to go in understanding the subject?
- Do they want to know something practical that helps them achieve something, or do I want to know it more deeply?
The answers to these questions are essential.
The message is that as an expert, you are unlikely to fully grasp how just specialized your language has become in the process of becoming an expert. It’s hard to realize that – I see that all the time.
Therefore, I invite you to be open when someone tells you that. Work with that person (the medical doctor I mentioned got it!). Let them ask all the “stupid” questions that turn out not to be so stupid.
This is a tip that I’m giving you for you to act as Brilliance Extractor in your life with people in your company, your nonprofit, your government office, or wherever you are.
- Think of a time when someone could not follow your explanation of something you know like the “back of your hand”?
- Think of a time when someone did that to you.
- How did you feel about either of these two situations?
P.S.: I appreciate you commenting and sharing this with others. Thank you!