Thursday, June 16, 2011

Simply Explained

The longer I have worked in my dozens of years being gainfully employed, solving problems, the more I find this to be true.  "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."  I used to think this was baloney; an over-simplification by people who were "big picture" oriented, but who didn't understand the fastidious details.  I can remember trying to explain to various international parts suppliers my company's methodology of how we measured certain critical dimensions on rotating components with the help of local translators.  Sure, those dimensions were stated on drawings, but the interpretation of those complex drawings had a different flavor at each site, in each country, and the truth was, until I could distill it down into an extremely simple sketch, the various suppliers just didn't "get it".  Once I presented the simple sketch and explained it straightforwardly, they understood.

I've found that I tend to do well in organizations that apparently have a significant percentage of technical personnel who do not know how to explain things simply.  They can tell you all about a specific tree, but have no idea about the forest in which that tree stands.  Or they can explain the inherently programmed propagation of fractal leaf patterns, but have no idea how that contributes to the plant's over-health, the forest's canopy coverage, or anything else beyond their limited area of fractal expertise.  Within their limited area of influence, they cling to jargon, abbreviations, acronyms that only they can usually decipher, in an attempt (I think) to mystify, perplex, and possible be-little their audience who doesn't speak the same limited area specific vocabulary, and who certainly doesn't have the same level of intensive expertise.  Those who can rise above that petty defensiveness and communicate advances, challenges, and possible solutions, have a better chance of rising above the "worker bee" level.

It's apparently not common for humans to be able to cut through that techno-speak, ask clear questions, and get clear answers.  Those of us who can, excel in engineering, science, technology, manufacturing, IT, finance, journalism, or whatever our vocation may be.  The rest of the herd, it seems, struggles to communicate on the most basic level.

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