I’ve always admired people that can explain things really well. People like Richard Feynman, and Tim Urban, who take really complex topics and explain them in simple, yet compelling ways that pretty much anyone can understand. Just listen to this interview with Feynman or read this post by Urban and I think you’ll start to get an idea of what I mean. The power to explain is the power to inspire.
As far as I can tell, in order to explain things well you first have to learn them well. The two are inextricably linked. By learning well, I’m mostly talking about a curiosity to figure things out. Learning well isn’t knowing that the sky’s blueness is caused by Rayleigh Scattering. It’s understanding that our atmosphere scatters light in a certain way. Light of shorter wavelengths (greens, blues, and violets) scatters more that’s why when you’re looking at the sky away from the sun it’s this pure sky blue, but when you actaully look at the sun it appears yellow because you see the longer wavelengths that are surviving the scattering. Learning well is the difference between knowing something and knowing its name.
I think that about covers the motivation for writing this post (and hopefully many more in the future). I think it’s about time we get to the heart of the matter…
I’ve been writing a blog post every weekday now for about a month. The posts are not very good, nor are they really targeted around explaining things, but the point with them was just to get started. Like building a house, the foundation always comes first. Now that I feel pretty comfortable writing everyday I want to think more critically about how I can explain something everyday through writing.
The first thought I have is that in order to explain something, I must first have something that I can learn about. Between what I read, and the things I encounter on daily basis this isn’t really a problem. I think the difficulty lies in scope. I like to get the whole picture of something. All the background, all the context and implications - everything. This is straight-up impossible to do if I want to write a blog post everyday. So I have two options, cut back on the blog posts or cut back on the scope. I choose the latter because I want to be able to hone in on the central nugget of something capture it’s essence and explain that in a compelling way. Rarely if ever do I think all the context is necessary, in fact I view it as a crutch.
I think the best way to narrow down on scope is to limit what I explain to whatever I’m able to read in a set 30 minute time period. Additionally, I want to limit my self to an hour of writing time. These are pretty random time constraints and might vary, but the idea is that I’m confident I can devote 1.5 hours to this discipline and that I think it will force me to really focus on one small thing to explain. I’m sure that occassionaly I won’t read anything of real interest in those 30 minutes, and I think part of this is also finding ways to explain things in a compelling way inspite of the actual material.
Anyway this is an experiment and it starts 9/1/16. My motivations and methodology are pretty clear so all that’s left is to actually try it out.