The Feynman Technique — Knowing vs Understanding

Ray of light on an open book
Photo by Nitin Arya from Pexels

“Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn’t matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough.”

“I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.”

It is hard to imagine that both these quotes are by the same person.

Richard P Feynman was an American theoretical physicist renowned for his work on quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics. One of the most influential and iconic personalities of the modern scientific era.

Feynman’s true genius, however, was in his ability to convey highly complex ideas in simple, understandable ways. And hence was nicknamed as ‘The Great Explainer’. Bill Gates was so inspired by the teaching methods that he called Feynman “the greatest teacher I never had” and purchased the rights to his lectures, making them publicly available.

At the time, it was extremely challenging to explain & visualize subatomic interactions in 2D space. Feynman introduced a simplified model of representation: The Feynman Diagrams. It facilitated the calculation of interaction probabilities by describing how light interacts with matter and how charged particles interact with each other.

It was so essential and path-breaking for the field that it earned him a Nobel Prize in 1965.

The best teacher I never had from GatesNotes.com

The Feynman Technique

Based on his studying and teaching methods, The Feynman Technique was developed as a learning framework (a breakdown of his thought process) that takes away the complexity & develops a deep, elegant understanding of a given topic.

1. Identify the subject

Take a piece of paper or use your favourite note-taking app and write all you know on the topic. Add onto the notes every new information you run into about the subject.

2. Teach it to a child

Simplify your notes by trimming down all the complexities & jargon using only words that a child can comprehend. The more difficult you find this stage, the more scope there is to improve; use creativity.

3. Identify your knowledge gaps

Find out What is missing? What don’t you know? about the topic.

This is the actual inflection point where learning happens. Identify knowledge gaps, go back to sources to compile information, and fill in the cracks.

4. Organize & tell a story

Stories stay with us till eternity as it is nearly impossible to forget a heartfelt, compelling and well-threaded narrative. Reflect, regroup and tell your story.

Armed with the Feynman technique, share your stories on how you could use this technique in your work.

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Nadeem Akhtar

Nadeem Akhtar

Exploring technology, design and business.

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