GCM 171 | Explanation Skill

 

The world is becoming more and more complex. As such, we need clarity more than ever so we can get rid of the anxiety from not knowing and not understanding what is happening around us. What can help bridge that is having the ability to explain, to take complex ideas, and turn them into simple and understandable pieces of information. Yet, not everyone has this ability. Lee LeFever, co-founder of Common Craft, can teach you how to harness the power of explaining. Through his two books, The Art of Explanation and Big Enough, he shares with us the lessons that entrepreneurs can find handy, especially in this time of COVID. Lee also discusses why he encourages his readers to think small, what are the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make, and why you need to be resilient to personal finances. Dive into this conversation and get fresh insights about business growth and more.

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Why We Need To Harness The Skill Of Explanation In This Complex World With Lee LeFever

As always, I’m excited about our show. I have Lee LeFever in the studio with me. He is the Cofounder of Common Craft and author of two books, The Art of Explanation, and Big Enough. Since 2007, Common Craft has won numerous awards, worked with the world’s most respected brands and created original explainer videos that have earned over 50 million online video views. Common Craft produces animated videos and digital visuals that are used by educators in over 50 countries. Help me please welcome, Mr. Lee LeFever to the show.

It’s great to be here, Rodney.

I want to, first of all, congratulate you on your success. You seem to be very successful in your life and in your career with Common Craft. You’ve written two books, The Art of Explanation and Big Enough. I want to talk about that and find out some juicy lessons from those books. First, I want to ask how you’re doing.

I’m doing good. I live in the Northwest part of the US and we’ve had fires in the area and it’s been a bad scene for a lot of people around. Luckily, the fires have not been in my area, but we have had smoky days, and the smoke’s gone now and we can all breathe a little better. The people on the mainland, the fires are going out now, so that’s good.

I’m glad to know that they are finally going out after millions and millions of acres burned. That’s been a bad situation. Let’s get into your books, what inspired you to write these books?

The Art of Explanation is my first book. The story of that goes back starting in 2007, my wife, Sachi and I started making these videos that explain social media. In 2007, social media wasn’t what it is now. We wanted to help people understand it and adopt it. At the same time, YouTube was also taken off. Sachi had joined the company, so we were a two-person company. We started making these little videos and they blew up. They were viral hits. What I often say is the 2007 version of viral hits. It changed our lives. We suddenly became video producers and known for the skill of explanation and taking complex subject often with technology and making it so that people like my parents could understand it.

We're all better off if people can communicate more clearly. Share on X

That was something that not many people had done before. We became known as the first people to do that, to make explanation the goal in a video. That was in 2007. We were super busy after that. We worked with a lot of great clients and made a bunch of videos that are our property that we could license. We saw this opportunity to take the things we were learning about clear communication and put them in a book that was not about making videos, but about clear communication in any context, in meetings and presentations and speaking, all these things. I worked with Wiley, the publisher, to get it out. That was in 2012. It was a great experience. I want there to be more explainers in the world. We’re all better off if people can communicate more clearly and there’s a problem with that right now. I wish we could do that and get people also to trust facts, but that’s a little bit beyond my pay grade.

Why do you think there’s a need for that to increase the capability and ability to explain? What do you feel that would solve?

We live in a more and more complex world. There are many new things happening all the time. It’s easy for people to feel anxious about all the changes and the things that are happening. One of the ways to reduce that anxiety is by understanding how something works or understanding why it matters or how it could impact them. That anxiety is the problem, that anxiety of not knowing and not understanding. That often leads people to come up with their ways to understand things. Sometimes those aren’t based on the facts and what’s happening. If we have more explainers, we have more people that can help a lot of people feel like they have a little more control of their life and what’s going on around them by understanding it more clearly.

How do the lessons and principles in your book specifically relate to entrepreneurship, especially in this time of COVID?

It’s huge. COVID is a great example of something I call an explanation problem. This isn’t about entrepreneurship specifically in this point, but it’s an example of a complex thing that people were not familiar with early on. There needed to be a lot of work done to help people understand how it works, why it matters, that is the explanation in doing that. Entrepreneurially, any entrepreneur, yourself, being a podcast host, I’m sure that you’re a great explainer. Anybody in business has a role to play and a duty even to make their message understandable, to make sure that their target market can see them speak or hear them on a podcast or whatever it is and think, “I understand something from a new perspective now because of that person.” That’s a powerful thing for people in business.

Clarity is something that is very necessary, especially in a time like this, because there’s so much uncertainty and there’s such a lack of clarity, it causes a lot of anxiousness and in many cases, depression. The more we can be clear about communication and about whatever it is we’re talking about, the more clarity we can bring to it. That brings with it a level of certainty, understanding and calmness for a lot of people. That right now is like currency. It’s very valuable if we can have clarity in the level of certainty because that’s what people are looking for now.

I would like to think that all we needed was clarity. I used to think that if you could package the facts in the right way, then people would change their minds. Maybe I was a bit naive to think that, but I now understand that it helps. You have to do that. That’s an important thing, but it takes more than just the facts. You’ve got to have a level of trust with your audience and you’ve got to have people who see you as someone that’s trustworthy too and that goes beyond talking about facts. You have to be a person who deserves trust and has integrity.

GCM 171 | Explanation Skill

The Art of Explanation: Making your Ideas, Products, and Services Easier to Understand

Explanation brings about that trust, because if they can’t understand you or because they can understand you so clearly, that provides a level of confidence and trust in what it is that you’re saying, what it is that you’re explaining or articulating. People will want to hear what you have to say and they’ll be more prone to buy into whatever it is that you’re pitching or offering. That’s what we want to get to. That’s the objective.

The hard part is that explanation is one of those things that it’s not one size fits all for everyone. It’s not like that you can come up with this great explanation of something and then everybody out there gets it. There are some great analogies, but their powerful explanations take into account the specific audience that it’s for, to understand what they do and don’t understand already. To understand what their needs are and what their expectations are. That’s when real explanation becomes valuable is when you’re able to know an audience well.

It’s like being an entrepreneur you know your market, “I’m focusing on this specific group of people. I think that they understand this already and I’m going to add something to that.” The example that I use is that if I were a guy off the street and walked into a conference of physicists talking about rocket science and I walk in and I’m like, “These explanations are terrible. I can’t understand any of it.” The reason is it’s not for me. I’m not in that audience. You can’t think of explanations as just this one size fits all. It’s all about who your audience is. That’s the key to making it work.

Why do you encourage your readers to think small? This is interesting that I learned about you. What’s the story behind that because it’s polarizing to what everyone else says?

I have a counter-message to a lot of people on entrepreneurial podcasts. This is the subject of my new book called Big Enough: Building a Business that Scales with Your Lifestyle. I mentioned Common Craft starting in 2007 and becoming a two-person business with my wife. Being known for explanation, having a first-mover advantage and having a lot of people come into our door wanting to hire us. What Sachi and I realized was that we were happy as a two-person company and working from home. We didn’t want employees. We started to think about, “What do we want our business to be?” We realized that if the business became a threat to our relationship as a married couple, then what’s it all for? Why would we risk both?

We thought about ways that we could transform the business into something that would support our values and the things that we want out of life. Instead of focusing on the bottom line, we thought, “What if we could design this business to give us more control of our life and time?” It needs to make money. It needs to have happy customers. It needs all those things, but what if we could also optimize for our values outside of earning a lot of money.

One of the ways to reduce anxiety is by understanding how something works, why it matters, or how it could impact you. Share on X

That’s what the message of Big Enough is and why I say think small is that there’s a lot of people who are starting to see their role in business from a different perspective. To see that maybe it’s not about trying to have the biggest pile of money, but maybe be wealthy in different ways. Maybe you can be wealthy in time, family, community or fate and all these things that don’t buy you a mega yacht, but they might make you happy. They might make you satisfied with your life. Those are values that not everybody thinks about in entrepreneurship, but they’re very real.

I like that concept because it goes against society and its standards. In society, everything is big. You’re not successful until you have to make a yacht or do this or that or if you get it, you got to have the biggest one, then you’re successful. It forces you to take a look at your happiness and your own level of success. You don’t have to keep up with the Joneses. I know that sounds cliché, but if you go on social media, it seems like that’s what everyone’s trying to do. It’s like, “Look at me, look what I got, look what I’ve done.”

I feel like it’s a big cycle of doom when we get into that level of thinking, of living and being, because what happens is, we go after these things and sometimes we get them, but then we find that we’re still unfulfilled. All of that was for naught. We can get outside of those social standards and live from within. Realizing we’re already abundant in many ways, even if you don’t have the mega yacht or $1 million and be grateful for that. Live it from the heart. If it causes you to get a mega yacht, then that’s great, but you’re fulfilled with the mega yacht and you’ve gotten it for all the right reasons versus just trying to win. You didn’t gain it based on competition.

There are a lot of people who are driven to win. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. That feeling of winning is a powerful force and I also don’t think that there’s anything wrong with being an entrepreneur that wants to have a big company and change the world. That is an admirable goal and that’s a good thing. My message is not that is there’s anything wrong with that. My message is that there is a choice. That is not the only way to do it. There are ways to think smaller about your business and maybe your life too. People sometimes assume that, “I’m unhappy now. If I only had more money, I would be happy.” That’s true for a lot of people. That’s true for people who are struggling financially or who are looking for a way out of a situation that they’re in, money helps.

Over and above, there’s a bit of science in my book about happiness. It talks about that at about $200,000 a year, families in the US, after that first $200,000 a year, money start to have diminishing returns in terms of happiness. You don’t get happier with more money after a certain level, but what you do often get is more problems. You have more things to take care of, duties, obligations and less time. It starts to be one of those things where you might have more money, but you might be less happy and less satisfied. That’s a reality that I don’t think a lot of people understand about reaching that level.

What are some of the biggest mistakes that entrepreneurs make?

Thinking hard about what they value in their lives. A lot of entrepreneurs value making a lot of money and there is nothing wrong with that, but there’s a place for entrepreneurs who value other things. That could be a business that runs at a level that supports them and their family, but also respects their time and gives them control of their time so that they want to spend more time with the kids or they want to spend time on a passion project, that it’s okay. There’s not a rule that says, “Just because you’re an entrepreneur, you have to trade everything for the bottom line.” There is a role for looking at it a little bit of a different way.

A more practical lesson that I could share, especially entrepreneurs that are starting out is to get your financial house in order and then think about the commitments that you make that create overhead. Those are expenses that happen every month or every year. They don’t care what’s happening or how much money you’re spending, they only care about how much money that you owe them. That overhead is what starts to eat you alive eventually is having all these fixed costs and finding ways to do things yourself or to not take a more expensive route.

GCM 171 | Explanation Skill

Explanation Skill: The bigger and fatter you are as a business, the harder it is to change. But if you’re lightweight and agile, you can jump around, move quickly, and find new opportunities.

 

Overhead can be emotional and intellectual too. It’s having more things to manage, more things to worry about and try to figure out a way to reduce the overhead and be a more lightweight business, a business that can change quickly. That’s the lesson in the era of COVID, if something comes along like COVID and shakes up the whole world, you got to be able to change. The bigger and fatter you are as a business, the harder it is to change, but if you’re lightweight and agile, you can jump around and move quickly and find new opportunities. That’s a model for a big enough business.

I’ve completed writing a white paper and I used a case study of Tokki. They were a company that pivoted during the COVID era. The owner knew another friend who made plastic bags, but they weren’t making those anymore. They had a lot of material and stuff laying around. What they did was Gravitas and Tokki partnered up and then they started making face masks. As a result of making a face mask, they blew up and it took off. They kept employees working, they kept their doors open and they kept their suppliers working because they had to move the product. That was a product that was needed during this time, so it served the world.

It was an example of being able to pivot and having the agility to change directions very quickly. That’s part of being resilient as well, having that agility. That’s not something you want to develop when you need it. You want to be agile at all times. You want to go into entrepreneurship, or even as a person in your thinking. You want to be agile and you’re thinking of practicing agility so that whenever there’s a situation that comes up, you have that capability to be quick and light on your feet because that’s one of the steps towards resilience.

In the Big Enough book, there’s a whole chapter on this idea I called The Monetorium, it’s like a moratorium on spending money. There’s a little bit of financial responsibility in the book. The idea is this idea of resilience that when it comes to personal finances, a lot of people’s financial houses are not in order all that well. We all have a responsibility to be responsible with our money. The Monetorium idea came from my wife and I having things that we needed to do like fix something on our house or if we wanted to go on a trip or something. We would go into a mode that we called The Monetorium. It meant clamping down on spending money and living a different lifestyle where we never ate out. We entertained at home. We would staycation or go camping or something affordable. It became a game where over time, each month, we would try to beat our numbers from last month. We would get happiness from doing that.

Anybody in business has a role to play and a duty even to make their message understandable. Share on X

What it did was train us in resilience where when something comes along like COVID, we can flip a switch and we are spending half the money we spent before. That’s something that I feel like a lot of people should have in their back pocket is that mode that they can go into when things go haywire, they can step back and be like, “We’re going into monetorium for a while.” They have trained themselves to live a lifestyle that doesn’t cost as much as it did before. It’s not permanent, it’s not forever, but do think of it like a training program where you’re training for resiliency. Rodney, this is one of the things that you do. You’re a trainer in this very thing.

I took a real vacation. I was listening to an audiobook. I got a tip going in this audiobook. I was watching Jim Rohn on some video on YouTube that he had done a long time ago. He was talking about generating wealth. I didn’t watch the whole thing, but it was one line that I caught. He was like, “I’ve recommended this book to millions of people.” How many people have read the book? He said, “Less than 10%. The problem with people is, they come to you and they want advice, and you give them advice and they won’t do it. What type of person you’re going to be?”

I was like, “I wonder what book that was because I caught this on YouTube. I wasn’t aware what the book was.” He said, “The book was The Richest Man in Babylon.” I had this long trip and I downloaded it on Audible. I was listening to this. It’s the book that everyone should read because it lays down some fundamental practices about building wealth and about financial freedom and financial literacy. One of the things that he talked about is putting away 10% of your income. Taking that 10% and then finding gainful employment for that 10% and then saving 10% of that.

He talked about the fact that it was a game. When we first started, it is little money, it doesn’t look like it’s worth doing because it’s not a lot, but over time, it builds and compounds. If you make an accumulated value of that 10% and then you take that 10% and save that find gainful employment for that, before you know it, you have this handsome nest egg of savings. It took me back to what you were talking about in terms of playing that game and cutting your expenses in half. For people that are out there, first of all, I want to recommend that book, because there some fundamental practices in there that are only going to help you. We have to be in a position mentally that we can stay lean. That’s not only financially but stay lean mentally. What type of things are you putting into your mind? You’re not spending your money on the fattening things. You’re staying lean and you’re cutting those things out. That changes your perspective as a human being and even as a business altogether.

One of the ways that happened for us was in 2008, after the videos became popular. One of the decisions was that we were not going to have employees. We’re going to stay a two-person business. A lot of demand coming to us and we told them all, no, because we wanted to be able to have a two-person business. That’s part of being lean and protecting our values and what matters to us. What we did was, we switched from being a services company where we could be hired to make a video. What happened was we were making our own videos that were not hired. They were just educational videos. We started offering digital downloads of those and that became our new business model.

Our videos became products and as products, they can scale and grow quickly because we can make a video once and sell it multiple times. That was a model that allowed our business to continue to grow and be more financially successful without our personal time being connected to it. That’s the real thing that a lot of business people want and see value in is to have something going on in your life that is making residual income or passive income. Oftentimes, that’s related to something that you own. You own the intellectual property, too. For us, it’s the copyright of our videos, that’s what we own that we can create residual income from and to do it on a low overhead way both financially and mentally.

My wife, we call her a couple of chief things. One is our Chief Happiness Officer. We also call her the Chief Party Pooper because I’m the one that’s always coming up with ideas and she’s always squashing them. As our Chief Happiness Officer, she’s one of the big ones whose idea was like, “Once you cross the employee Rubicon, if you have one, you might as well have 10 or have 100. If you keep it small, then maybe you can wake up in the morning only thinking about your problems and not anybody else’s problems.” That’s been one of those mental things that we enjoy.

GCM 171 | Explanation Skill

Big Enough: Building a Business that Scales with Your Lifestyle

Lee, how can people connect with you if they wanted to learn more about you, possibly get your books or maybe even work with you?

My website is my name, LeeLeFever.com. My book is called Big Enough and you can find that at BigEnough.life. My company is called Common Craft, and you can find that at CommonCraft.com. I’m one of those people who has a unique enough name, @LeeLeFever is my handle on all the major platforms. You can find me, @LeeLeFever on Instagram and Twitter.

I want to thank you for coming to the show. Congratulations on the books and the videos. I’m going to have to go and check out your videos and see what your explanation’s all about.

I would appreciate that. You should check it out. There are some feature videos you can watch for free on the site.

As we end the show, something that we always ask our guests that come on the show is how can people bounce back from adversity, dominate their challenges and consistently win at the game of life?

Our values matter, the things that make us tick and knowing what your values are means that if you had face adversity and you have to come back. I don’t want you to outsource your values to society or to other people. Those are your values and things that matter to you. It doesn’t have to be money. It can be family, faith, community and all these things that can become your focus are what you value and not what you see on TV or what you see online. It’s a personal decision to choose to win the game of life by focusing on what matters to you and not what society is telling you should.

That’s sage advice right there.

I appreciate that, Rodney.

I live by that code because there were a lot of distractions out there. We own the field. Everyone has their game plan. The way they feel they’re going to be able to score or either they’re trying to figure out how and you get hit with distractions and it hurts. You can start focusing on what the opposition is doing on the field or the resistance is doing to you. You start playing their game. You see what they’re doing and what you’re realizing is what you can’t do as a result of what the opposition is doing instead of going back to the drawing board and finding the weaknesses in the opposition that you can exploit, but we don’t get to that part a lot of times.

We’re distracted that we forget who we are and we start living based on the defense. To come back to that awareness, to take that step back and go back to the drawing board and recognize that, we are winners, we are overcomers and that as human beings, we can create. We’re co-creators. We’re connected to the source and we’re connected to each other. This is an opportunity to up the game plan, to figure out a new strategy, all of those things that are serving us in those situations. When we can go back and figure out how to get around over or above the defense, that’s the beauty of opposition showing up.

One of the stories I tell in the book is I lived in Seattle for twenty years. There’s a lot of people in tech there and I would always have these discussions with tech entrepreneurs and they would tell me about their recent VC funding or how many employees they had hired or all the products they were doing and then the conversation will switch to Common Craft. We’re just a two-person team working from home. They would be dismissive of Common Craft because they didn’t see that we were doing something entrepreneurial. I would think to myself like, “Yes, you have all that VC funding and all those employees, but I don’t have an alarm clock and I haven’t had a meeting in two weeks. I feel like I’m winning too.” There are different kinds of winning.

It's a personal decision to choose to win the game of life by focusing on what matters to you and not what society is telling you should. Share on X

It’s all perception. You can either perceive it in a way that’s going to serve you or perceive it in a way that’s going to help you. That’s the choice. It could be a hindrance or it could be something that can propel you, but that’s the perception. It’s the story that you tell yourself about it.

That’s a good way to look at it, for sure.

Thank you again for coming on the show. This has been a fantastic conversation.

I enjoyed it, Rodney. Thanks for having me on.

Thank you.

It’s another successful episode of the show. I want to go back to what Lee said about thinking small. Sometimes thinking big can be to your detriment. I want you to imagine a game when you have these big plays and you’re running these big plays. You’re thinking big that it’s a sexy place, this is how we’re going to score, but then the defense does something and you’re not able to execute those big plays for whatever reason. That was your game plan. Sometimes we have to think small, we have to think in small little pieces in order to overcome the opposition and the resistance that shows up in life. Instead of going for those 50-yard passes or those great big leaps and bounds, sometimes we have to take 5 yards at a time, maybe even one step at a time.

Wherever you are, if you’re feeling defeated, let’s think about small, micro wins. What are we going to win in this hour? What are we going to win in the next hour or maybe in the next moment? How can we get into the momentum of winning? We can turn those small wins into big wins over time, but for right now, we just want micro wins. How can we win the day? People are thinking about, “How can we get over COVID?” How can we win COVID right now? At this moment, what can we do that would be a win against COVID? That’s a game-changer mentality at its finest. Until next time, peace and love.

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About Lee Lefever

GCM 171 | Explanation SkillLee LeFever is the co-founder of Common Craft and author of two books: The Art of Explanation and Big Enough. Since 2007, Common Craft has won numerous awards, worked with the world’s most respected brands and created original explainer videos that have earned over 50 million online video views.

Today, Common Craft produces animated videos and digital visuals that are used by educators in over 50 countries.

Lee and his partner Sachi are Common Craft’s only employees and work from their home off the coast of Washington State.

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