There is No Dumbing Down, Only Smartening Up

Smarten UpA sign of mastery is to be able to explain something complex in simple terms.

Sure, there is more nuance and texture to whatever you are explaining. There are more dimensions and perspectives. There are also more bedrock fundamentals to understand.

But none of that matters now.

Not when you are trying to give someone the “gist” of the idea.

Right now, the most important thing is to make the topic approachable. To build on ramps. To induce curiosity.

Smarten Up Instead of Dumbing Down

Imagine if you could make something so clear and compelling that someone else could “get” the idea almost immediately.

Now, think about their curiosity driving them to want to know more. And to seeking that from you, their teacher and mentor on the topic.

That puts you in a position of power because you offer real value.

There’s nothing dumb about that.

That seems pretty smart to me.

That’s why it bothers me when people grumble about having to “dumb down” their message. Or, even worse, when someone asks that you “dumb it down for me.”

I think that’s dumb.

It’s better to pursue the challenge of getting to the essence of the matter.

Maybe I’m worrying too much about semantics here, but I do think that attitude matters.

If we feel smart, and we feel like we’re working to make others smart, our approach may be different.

Rather than approaching the task with drudgery and disdain, we might approach it with joy and excitement.

Listen Smart Too

Listening with curiosity seems like a good idea too. Before we cut ourselves off from a good opportunity to learn by saying (to ourselves or others) that we won’t get it or won’t get it quickly enough, we should pause.

And wonder a bit more.

Wondering is underrated.

In an age where every answer is a google search away, facts are cheap. And the process of thinking matters more…

Thinking about the underlying concepts, motives, and dynamics. Thinking about the why.

When we’re in front of someone with more knowledge than us, that’s a great opportunity to wonder out loud. And to have someone help us to learn more.

Asking good questions is probably more important than knowing stuff. Practicing different lines of attack on different sorts of problems seems like a good skill to build.