Wellness: How 'Feynman technique' can help you supercharge and simplify your input

At the core of it, it is the ability to abstract complexity and convey ideas in a straight-forward manner

By Delna Mistry Anand

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Published: Thu 12 Oct 2023, 8:18 PM

Last week, on International Teacher’s Day, I read a very unique appreciation post — with a twist. The writer thanked an old teacher for over-complicating his then favourite subject, and unknowingly pushing him towards a subject that he eventually made a career of. Though the story has a happy ending, there was pain in his words — “overcomplicating what could have been simply explained better” and “lazy teaching”.

In today’s age of online learning, it has become more crucial to master the skill of teaching — and learning, over a screen. The key to effective communication lies in how well you are able to simplify a concept.

Enter the Feynman Technique — a study strategy for gaining and retaining a deep understanding of complex topics, named after a Nobel-winning physicist Richard Feynman. A hero in his own right, Feynman is best known for his treatment of the Challenger disaster, his love of puzzles, music, culture, of pranks and jokes and his brilliance in mathematics and physics. Feynman’s true genius was his ability to convey complex ideas in simple, elegant ways. Simply put, the Feynman Technique was created to supercharge your learning — based on his observation that complexity and jargon are often used to mask a lack of deep understanding.

The Feynman Technique involves four key steps:

1.Choose a subject

Clearly identify what you wish to learn.

Take a blank paper and note down everything you know about it.

Read, research and add any new learnings or insights as you develop them

2. Explain it to a child (Here’s where it gets interesting)

Pretend you are explaining this theory/idea to a child, using simple words, analogies, stories but not missing any vital information.

3. Reflect

Look back at your explanation and honestly assess how well you explained the topic to a child. Which parts did you struggle with and what details did you miss — these are the gaps in your understanding!

Return to source material and review those points to improve your understanding.

4. Simplify & Repeat

Now refine your simple explanation into a clear, compelling narrative, and repeat.

When you can create an explanation that encompasses all the elements properly, you have succeeded.

At the core, it is the ability to abstract complexity and convey ideas in a straightforward manner. It is easy to overcomplicate and intimidate. The Feynman Technique shows that complexity and jargon are often used to mask a lack of deep understanding. Focus instead, on finding depth and simplicity, not just in learning concepts but also in living your life. Said Feynman, “Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough’.


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