The Art of Explanation: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: February 12th, 2013 by bobmorris

Art of ExplanationThe Art of Explanation: Making Your Ideas, Products, and Services Easier to Understand
Lee LeFever
John Wiley & Sons (2013)

A brilliant explanation of how to explain more successfully so that you as well as others really “get it”

Exposition is probably the most versatile and often the most valuable of the four levels of discourse that Aristotle (384-322 BC) discusses in his Rhetoric (or The Art of Rhetoric). It is usually combined with one or more of the other three (Description, Narration, and Argumentation) to “expose,” reveal, explain, illuminate, enlighten, etc. I mention all this by way of framing the remarks about Lee LeFever’s book, The Art of Explanation, that follow.

Although he may have envisioned the business world as his primary audience, I think that most of the information, insights, and counsel that he offers can be of substantial benefit to almost anyone else, especially to parents, clergy, teachers, coaches, and those in government, the military, or the not-for-profit world. He organizes his material within three Parts: First, Plan (Chapters 1-4), then Package (5-13), and finally Present (14-18). If executed properly, the process recommends will strengthen the skills needed to create understanding, one’s own as well as others’.

As I worked my way through LeFever’s lively and eloquent narrative, I was again reminded of an observation by Albert Einstein: “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Einstein would be the first to concede that there are exceptions but, most of the time, explanations fail because those who offer them do not as yet understand, sufficiently, the given subject.

That is why LeFever devotes so much attention to the skills and techniques needed to prepare an explanation, “one that describes facts in a way that makes them understandable. The intent of an explanation is to increase understanding.” However, increasing one’s own understanding must precede efforts to increase another’s — or others’ — understanding. He also makes skillful use of several reader-friendly devices that include boxed mini-commentaries, checklists of key points and process stages or steps, and an end-of-chapter “Summary” for Chapters 3, 6-9, 11, and 15-16. Be sure to take full advantage of the QR (Quick Response) codes throughout the book that provide a link to several Common Craft explanatory videos. The links are listed on Pages 211-213

These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye, also listed to suggest the scope and depth of coverage:

o What is NOT an Explanation (Pages 8-9)
o “Look at Your Fish” (i.e. see more and more quickly than others do, Pages 12-13)
o Explaining Twitter “in plain English” (18-49)
o Context in Explanation — We Can All Agree (61-63)
o Using Stories in Explanation (74-77)
o Explanation Is Not a Recipe (97-99)
o Guidelines: Simplifying the complex idea of virtualization (110)
o Constraints on Choice(s) (113-115)
o Constraints and Your Explanations (117-119)
o Ten Lessons Learned from Common Craft Explanations (151-154)
o Presentation Modes (161-164)
o Dan Roam’s 6 X 6 [Cluster] Rule (178-180)
o Common Craft Visual Metaphors (186-188)
o Your Life as An Explainer (206-208)

I realize that no brief commentary such as mine can possibly do full justice to the scope and depth of material that Lee LeFever provides in this volume but I hope that I have at least suggested why I think so highly of it. Also, I hope that those who read this commentary will be better prepared to determine whether or not they wish to read the book and, in that event, will have at least some idea of how the mastery of specific skills and techniques can prepare them to achieve breakthrough collaboration, especially now when it is most needed in what has become a global marketplace.

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One Response

  1. Lee LeFever says:

    Thanks so much for the review Bob!

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