You Can’t Tell People Anything

“We all spend a lot of our time talking to bosses or investors or marketing people or press or friends or other developers. I’m totally convinced that a new idea or a new plan or a new technique is never really understood when you just explain it. People will often think they understand, and they’ll say they understand, but then their actions show that it just ain’t so…

…What’s going on is that without some kind of direct experience to use as a touchstone, people don’t have the context that gives them a place in their minds to put the things you are telling them. The things you say often don’t stick, and the few things that do stick are often distorted. Also, most people aren’t very good at visualizing hypotheticals, at imagining what something they haven’t experienced might be like, or even what something they have experienced might be like if it were somewhat different.”

—Chip Morningstar. You Can’t Tell People Anything. Habitat Chronicles.com. April 22, 2004.

A variant of “show, don’t tell.” If it is not based in experience, then imagination has to do the heavy lifting to make meaning, and most of the time, people’s imagination isn’t up for the task.

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