Ben Zoldan in Stories | December 1, 2015 | No Comments

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t know it well enough.” – Albert Einstein

I’ve seen that quote a lot lately, posted on people’s LinkedIn pages, on Facebook. I guess it’s a pretty popular quote these days, but I’ve been having some trouble with it.

My family and I went to Kauai last year. On the second day of the trip, my youngest daughter, Abby, and I went on a Zodiac tour that takes you around the north and west sides of the island. My older daughter, Zoe, and my wife, Tia, weren’t into it, so they stayed back at the hotel. It’s this half-day thing, where this little zodiac takes you around this magnificent island and it was amazing.

Abby and I get back to the hotel and Tia asks how it was. I said it simply, “It was amazing.” I told her what we saw: beautiful cliffs, caves, and dolphins. I even showed her a few short 30-second videos I took on my iPhone of the coast and the views.

Tia said, “That’s neat.

And I was like, “Neat? What! It wasn’t “neat”.” At that moment, Abby and I were just starring into each other’s eyes and we started smiling. We experienced this crazy life changing little thing together, but my wife reduced it to “neat.” And for me, putting it all into words wasn’t easy, it’s almost like words would not do it justice.

There was more to it….

We signed up for this tour, pretty excited to get out there, but didn’t really know what to expect. This little inflatable raft takes off and hugs the coast line just below these 1,500-foot vertical black cliffs that are towering above this aqua blue water, with waves barreling over us. All of a sudden, a school of dolphins starts to show us the way. Its like they become the tour guides. It was pretty scary at first; these dolphins are about 1 foot from the sides of the raft; you could reach out and practically touch them. This goes on for a bit, while we’re holding onto the side rails of this raft – its totally surreal. The captain then stops in front of this huge sea cave, maybe 50 feet high. He slows the engine down, because he has to time the swell perfectly in order to ride it in. It was scarier and more exhilarating than any roller coaster I’ve ever been on. We ride the swell into this almost pitch-black sea cave and ride it back in near darkness. I remember holding my breath the whole time, and squeezing Abby’s

We ride the swell into this almost pitch-black sea cave and ride it back in near darkness. I remember holding my breath the whole time, and squeezing Abby’s arm, like I’m holding on for dear life. We get out of there, and quickly pull up to an isolated pristine beach, where we all have a chance to catch our breath. Then, we anchor for a quick snorkel dive on a remote reef, and see animals I’ve never seen before; eels popping out of the coral, fish that looked like aliens. All these crazy and unexpected things were happening all at once; sensory perception was in total overdrive. It was this crazy euphoria.

For lunch, the “captain” gave us these little prepackaged turkey sandwiches: whole wheat bread, turkey and lettuce, with a stupid bag of Fritos. It was maybe the best tasting food I ever had. The best meal ever. The bottled water tasted better than anything I ever drank.

I still I have a hard time explaining what it all meant to me. I can describe what a 1500 ft cliff looks like, what kind of sandwich I had, could even show a video I took from my iPhone, but it’s not easy to squeeze the expansiveness I felt, the connection to everything around me, into simple words. And as I’m reliving that experience now, the smile Abby and I shared is back on my face, as well as that awe-inspiring feeling.

And that brings me back to Einstein’s quote. A couple weeks ago, I had a conversation with a friend, a Professor at Yale Business School. Her work overlaps a lot of my own: around influence, persuasion and human behavior. I told her about the quote and how it’s really screwed me up because I struggle sometimes to explain my business, Storyleaders “simply” enough for some people to understand. Do I, therefore, not know it well enough?

She responded pretty quickly, “I don’t think Einstein was talking about our internal worlds. Maybe he was just talking about the outer world?

And now I’m wondering if all these experts have conditioned us to reduce what we communicate into short sound bites, into elevator pitches, into things that are measureable, to Cost/Benefits Analysis, putting ideas into spreadsheets and bullet points, to predict, predict, predict. Maybe human experiences are not so simple, nor should we try to explain them so simply.

The more I fall into that trap, the more shallow and constricting the world appears to be.

I guess I understand why Tia’s response was “that’s neat.” It’s not that she reduced the experience to something small, it’s that I did. I tried to say it simply and that was the problem. The more I’ve practice opening up, reliving and sharing experiences to their fullest – the outer & inner worlds, its just better. Tell the whole story. This may be simple, but it ain’t easy.


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