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Introducing The Feynman Technique

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An Image saying "Your don't know something well if you can't explain it to a child accompanied with a photo of albert einstein

Albert Einstein is often credited with having said this, or at least a version of it.

Whether he said it or not, it’s a great way of summing up the Feynman Technique to the uninitiated.

This simple but crucial approach we use successfully within our leadership trainings at CLP to make sure those attending our programmes actually remember what they have learnt.

It’s based on distilling what a person knows, but it is much more than that. It can help people learn faster and unleash their potential by developing a deeper understanding.

Richard Feynman

The technique itself is named after American theoretical physicist, Richard Feynman, who was known as the ‘great explainer’ as he could translate complex scientific theories into more accessible terms.

He recognised the difference between deeply understanding something and just knowing the name of something.

How to use the Feynman Technique

The technique is based on being able to learn something so well you can explain it briefly and accurately. In order to do this, you can implement these steps:

  • Clarify exactly what you want to learn – the more specific you are, the more efficient the learning process will be
  • Assess your current understanding – in the simplest language state what you already know about what you want to learn
  • Acquire new knowledge – as you learn keep checking back and reread or relearn until you can explain it in the simplest form
  • Document your new knowledge – create visuals and analogies to help cement and illuminate your learning
  • Re-state evolved understanding – test your knowledge by re-stating what you know without the use of notes or documents. If you can’t do this, go back and repeat steps 3-5 until you can

Anyone can make a subject complicated but only someone who understands can make it simple

True knowledge of a subject can be demonstrated by taking a complicated subject and explaining it in the simplest terms. I recently tried to explain my 12 year old daughter the difference between simple interest and compound interest. In the end my daughter lost interest seeing weird graphs and number examples.

To truly test your own knowledge, pay attention when you’re listening to yourself explain something using jargon or complicated terms. Stop yourself and explain it in simple terms. If you get frustrated, it’s a sign you don’t fully understand what you’re talking about. If you did, you’d be able to explain it better.

Here, a little leadership quiz for you. Can you explain ‘to a child’ the following business terms?

  • Change Management
  • Design Thinking
  • EBIT

So, in summary, the Feynman Technique helps pinpoint areas in a concept you’re trying to learn and gives a framework for a quick and efficient way to target this learning. The result is more efficient learning and ultimately ensures you remember what you’ve learnt.

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