Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Exposition as Genius

Recently, a colleague stated an eloquent view of genius:

An accomplishment is not truly ingenious if the person cannot explain it.
I love this quote, vis-a-vis software:
  • If one considers code as an explanation of what the computer is doing, then this quote has inherent disrespect for clever hacks and tricks.
  • More generally, a good, thoughtful explanation is quite an accomplishment, and a gift: it requires articulation, respect, and an intuitive feel for the audience. Over my career, I have learned that a critical attribute of a work environment is: do I feel comfortable asking questions? This spans technology and domain knowledge.
  • This quote says nothing about the creative spark or _how_ the person came up with the idea. That's a separate issue, and a tall order. I doubt that Mozart could tell anyone how he wrote; i.e. how his genius worked. But he could tell you why a particular piece of music works.
Great stuff.


Morgan said...

This reminds me of a story told by noted physicist Richard Feynman. He remarked that he was unable to prepare a freshman physics lecture on a certain physics topic. And then concluded that that meant that we really didn't understand the topic.

His definition of understanding is both profound and useful. If you can't explain it to a bright, curious person, then you mustn't "get it" either.

Preston L. Bannister said...

Any idea you truly understand, you can explain to a child.

Read this (in various forms) and found it to be a useful metric. The hardest thing is to reduce a complex idea into a clear, simple and true form.

Coming up with an explanation for an intelligent layman, or an expert in your field, is easier and does not depend as clear an understanding on your part.

Simple metric - if the explanation offered for an idea is unclear, very likely the level of understanding on the part of whomever is offering the explanation is limited, and more likely to be wrong.

Michael Easter said...

@Morgan, @Preston

One of the joys as a blogger is receiving comments that are better written than the original post.

Very cool.... Merci!

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