As an undergraduate, I took a job as a Teaching Fellow. I graded homework assignments, held office hours, and taught a small weekly section. I am convinced I learned more from this process than my students. I was covering material I had ostensibly learned. But explaining to others forced me to understand better. And the most effective explanations were the simple ones.

Every week involved reducing three hours of lecture materials into a thirty minute summary. If I did a poor job, the students were relentless with questions. Together we would iterate to simpler framings of the material. When we were successful, the students were able to complete their assignments with much less help.

Whatever simple explanations lack in nuance, they make up for in power. People remember them. They become the basis for future knowledge. Complexity becomes a feature of something more fundamental rather than the subject itself.

I have seen the same thing play out in my professional career. A good team faced with a hard problem will produce a rigorous document. A great team faced with the same problem will produce a single page. People often aspire to explain the complexity they uncover. But the opposite is more valuable.

If you can’t explain something simply, then you don’t understand it.

I admit there are some issues that can not or should not be simplified. The interface between product and law, for example, is often irreducibly complex. Still, I have the pleasure to work on some of the most novel technologies on the planet. And I’m amazed at how often our conversations boil down to just a few simple ideas that really matter.