Sometimes my peers disappoint me.
This was one of those times.
I was in a van headed to an American Enterprise Institute conference located in DC. The College dean was driving the van, and we were having a pretty good start.
Granted, it was 6 in the morning (ugh!).
I was a first semester sophomore in a van full of juniors and seniors.
These students were the top of the pecking order. There was no doubt in my mind that most of them would be political aids, and lawyers.
Somehow I was in this group, and I was a little overwhelmed. I was the noobie in this scenario.
Up till now I had been keeping a low profile in the back of the van. I wasn’t going to speak up until I had something worthwhile to say.
That’s when one of the juniors asked the dean a question.
He wanted to know if the dean had any advice for communicating the knowledge they had learned in one of the entry level political theory classes.
For some background, this theory class is trumped up by every student that goes through it as the foundation for literally everything.
It’s the best in their opinion.
The professor is amazing, the content is amazing, the class is amazing.
I was even “threatened” several times with this class. Apparently, this class would magically change my misguided “libertarian” views, and put me back on the right path.
So you can understand my surprise when this devotee of the class asked his question. He was at a loss as to how one would communicate the “truths” learned in this class to the new freshmen.
I was more happy to hear this than I should have been.
I was just sitting there, in the back of the van, smiling from ear to ear.
Why? Because I knew something this guy didn’t.
I knew I had him beat. That all his fancy theoretical learning had left him lacking one vital component.
A component that I had!
No amount of philosophical and political theory could’ve taught him it.
While he was asking the dean this question, I was in the back of the van with the answer.
So how did I know it and this junior in a high level Liberal Arts College didn’t?
The Gap Between Knowledge & Dissemination
I knew how to traverse the gorge between knowing and spreading what you know.
He realized that the gap existed, but he couldn’t find the bridge to cross it.
This gap is what it takes to go from knowing a lot about subject “A,” to being able to tell someone about it. And have them understand it on the spot.
“I know about ‘X,’ but I don’t know how to share it with ‘Y.’”
This theory class filled him with ideas and principles, but left him incapable of sharing it with his fellow students.
Think about that for a minute.
He didn’t feel adequate to talk to his fellow classmates about principles he learned in one class.
How in the world was he going to do it when he left college? No one’s going to know about his college, much less taken his class. They’re not going to care about his professor, or how full of wisdom he is.
When you get out in the real world, you’re in the marketplace of ideas.
And if you can’t communicate those ideas clearly, you’ve lost.
This student lost before he even got in the market.
So how do you guarantee that you won’t end up like this guy?
How do you fill the gap?
Filling the Gap (You’ve got to Break it Down)
How do you show someone how to dance?
You break down the steps.
You make it manageable and communicate each footstep. You break it down to its basic structure.
The same holds true with beliefs. In fact, you can do it with any political, economic, or philosophical idea.
Take supply and demand for example.
I hate graphs. They’re confusing, too many lines and numbers.
Instead of using graphs to explain supply and demand, I just break it down. I research supply and demand (thank you Wikipedia), look it over for 15 minutes, then put it in my own words.
I did the same for the non-aggression principle. Find the standard definition, look over it, then put it in my own words.
Filling the gap between knowing and explaining is a matter of how well you can break down the idea into its simplest version.
You can do this several ways…
- First off, you can paraphrase it. Write it down in your own words, like how you talk. Remove all big vocabulary. Write it in a sentence or two (three at the most depending on what it is).
- Secondly, you can use real life examples. What does this thing you’re trying to explain remind you off? Are there any proverbs or stories that communicate the idea? For example, I used iPhones to talk about Supply and Demand. It’s a familiar topic with a clear economic law behind it.
- Thirdly, you can break it down into connected points. If it’s based on an action, you can use a “cause and result” point system (“A” leads to “B,” “A” + “B” = “C,” etc). Again, this is what I did for supply and demand. I used a “cause and result” explanation. You can even use it for ideas that involve several factors for it to make sense.
If you understand it, you should be able to break it down.
Your ability to break down an idea is based on how well you grasp it.
Once you grasp it and start breaking it down, you’ve crossed the gorge. Now to disseminate the idea…
Dissemination (Crafting the Message)
Dissemination is difficult for even the most knowledgeable student.
I’ve witnessed plenty of students graduate college and end up inept at disseminating their idea.
They throw around big vocabulary words, over complicate ideas, and talk like a dusty academic professor.
If you’re explaining your belief and it sounds like you’re reading an academic journal proposal, you need to stop.
Like right now!
No one wants to hear you babble on like some highly educated snot.
Communication is about the receiver, not the sender.
You have to craft the message in a way that will connect with the listener. That means dropping your niche specific rhetoric and buzzwords. Oh and don’t mention names. Who cares if you read Plato (unless they’re asking you about his work)?
It’s not about Plato, it’s about whether the listener understands what you’re explaining.
Make it your central goal whenever you’re explaining a subject to a friend, family member, or coworker.
“Will this person understand what I’m saying? Will they connect with it?”
If you’re talking like an old white male professor, chances are they’re not going to get.
And they’re probably gonna think you’re a know-it-all.
Understand the idea, break it down, communicate it in a way that relates with the listener.
That’s how you’ll cross this gorge without looking like a nincompoop who spent a bunch of money on a class he can’t even talk to others about.
Cue Mr. T…