I’m not stupid I’m just…

…curious, …in a hurry, …not that interested

Matt Hall


November 6, 2023

People with a lot of expertise (I don’t like the word ‘expert’) can help others learn and improve by writing. As a bonus, the act of writing reflexively sharpens the expertise. Everyone wins!

However, if you ask someone with great experience and theoretical insight to write a how to wiki page or best practice document, there’s a good chance it will be 3000 words long, or even shatter into seven 3000-word-long sub-articles. There will probably be equations. Code, if you’re lucky. References. Valuable documentation of a difficult task, for sure…

…but completely inappropriate for 90% of use cases. Most people, most of the time, can’t absorb thousands of words right now. They see the wall of text and immediately smash that back button.

The challenge of reducing important ideas to a couple of paragraphs and some bullet points is too much for some. It’s “dumbing down”, “diluting”, “oversimplifying”, or pandering to “the lowest common denominator”. The target audience sometimes participates in this notion with requests to, “Explain it like I’m 5”.

This is a horrible misunderstanding. Simplistic content for dumb people with childlike vocabularies is not what is being asked for. There are lots of reasons other brilliant people with experience and insight want approachable content sometimes:

It’s possible that large language models like ChatGPT are especially good at this task of summarization. But I believe it’s a skill worth honing, if not for writing then for speaking. If you learn to see the loss of precision as a gain in signal strength, perhaps the tradeoff will seem less costly.

The result: more smart people will find and read your ideas, and get the help they were looking for.