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Named after Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, the Feynman Technique involves breaking down information into small, manageable pieces and then using mental images to help understand it — and can be applied to convey complicated topics in a short amount of time. Fans of Feynman’s process include Bill Gates, who, in a video entitled “The Greatest Teacher I Never Had”, expressed astonishment and how readily the physicist could break down complex topics into approachable and briskly-worded parts.
The technique involves four steps.
1. Pick a topic and study it
Start with a topic that you want to learn about — anything from a new language, to how to play an instrument, to physics. Break down the components of the topic and examine each piece individually. Once you understand the individual parts, put them back together and see how they fit. You can do this by using Feynman’s mental models to build a solid foundation in your mind.
2. Explain the topic to a 5-year-old
Attempt to describe your chosen topic to a child. Feynman used this approach when he was learning to draw; he would describe the subject to a child or even use hand gestures until he could explain it enough that they understood.
3. Examine any gaps in your knowledge
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Were you able to explain the topic in basic terms? What was the most challenging part of doing that? How did you feel when things got tough? Were there any points when you used jargon, as opposed to actually explaining? If so, repeat steps one through three until you understand the topic better and have filled additional voids in your knowledge.
4. Organize, analyze and simplify
Use what you learned in steps one through three to organize your learning into a system that works for you. Make the information even more understandable by removing jargon and replacing it with analogies or images. Additionally, make learning fun by creating an activity (a game, perhaps) around learning the topic from start to finish. For example, Feynman would often teach physics by presenting a series of questions on large sheets of paper joined in something like a flipbook. You can do this too: All you need is some time and effort.
I’ve found that the Feynman Technique is an incredible framework for unlocking professional growth. If you are looking for a new skill or project that will take your life to the next level, apply it, and simply be amazed.
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