Always New Mistakes

January 24, 2008

The Explanation Problem and why we suck at it

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Alex Barrera @ 12:57 pm

I’ve come to believe there is a huge knowledge gap between early adopters and “the rest”. Most of the early adopters are very tech savvy and have a special gift for understanding how things work. I confess I’m an early adopter myself and even though I love to be one, sometimes I feel I’m very disconnected with the rest of the world. This is specially true if you are an entrepreneur and you need to pitch your idea to investors, friends, potential users, etc. And of course, most tech entrepreneurs are early adopters, so it’s common.

question-mark.jpgThe problem arises when you are talking about something normal to you, be it Twitter, Facebook or Seesmic and part, if not all, of your audience isn’t an early adopter. You’ll probably get questions like “Sees.. what?. Suddenly everybody is looking at you demanding an explanation because, of course, 99% of them had the same question. Now, for someone that lives and breaths technology, it’s very hard to explain a new concept or service. We tend to use other tech terms to aid us in our quest to explain something which in the end just confuses your audience even more.

Of course, the reason behind this is that early adopters don’t think in the same way the rest of the world does. They’ve been absorbing such a huge technological background that they think everybody is like them and that everybody is capable of going from A to C without talking about B (because of course, B is rather obvious… or is it?). This problem isn’t unique to early adopters but to many other professionals like doctors or architects.

Now, I was reading Lee LeFever’s latest blog post where he gives the key for the explanation problem. I have to confess it was an “AHA” moment. Lee just nails it! He explains:

Often, when someone asks “what is…”, they really mean “Why does it matter to me?” By considering what matters to someone, the answer becomes different and more likely to give them information they can act on.

Why does it matter to me? What is that going to give me? How can I use that to make my life easier? These an similar questions are the cornerstone of this vexing problem. If you, like me, are used to deal with your family’s computer problems you might be aware of how hard it’s to explain our world to non tech geeks. Personally I tend to over explain the question instead of answering “yes” or “no” which is what really matters to my speaker. From now on I’ll try to answer asking me first the “Why does it matter to me?” question.

So, why this post matters to you? Because it will enable you to explain your knowledge to a wider audience.

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