What might be the best way to learn new subjects and assess gaps in our current knowledge? Richard Feynman was an American quantum physicist and Nobel Laureate who is known to have formulated a way to learn anything under the sun. We refer to this technique as the Feynman Technique..
Feynman recognized that there is a difference between knowing something and knowing the name of something. This was one of the most important reasons for his brilliance and success. Using this insight, he created the formula for learning which we now refer to as the Feynman Technique that he used himself to ensure he understood something better than everyone else.
According to Feynman, the following are some simple steps in the technique:
1- Choose a Concept
2- Teach it to a Child
3- Identify Gaps and Review
4- Organize and Simplify
After choosing the subject or concept to learn, the remaining steps are as follows:
1- Teach it to a Child
Take a blank sheet of paper and write the subject you want to learn at the top. Then write down whatever you know about the subject as if you were teaching it to an 8-year old child.
People use complicated vocabulary and jargon to hide their own lack of clarity about the subject. Simple language that a child can understand automatically forces you to learn at a deeper and more “pure” level.
2- Identify Gaps and Review
You will of course encounter gaps in your knowledge such that you may not be able to explain the subject simply and you feel there is still lack of clarity to explain the concept well. Knowing the limit of your knowledge is invaluable and is the real start of all learning. So you go back to the source material and review it until you can explain it in the simplest possible way.
3- Organize and Simplify
Now you have your own notes that you can re-organize, re-word and simplify even more. This now becomes your own insight; you “own” the knowledge. You read it over and over again and practice sharing this with others until the knowledge becomes really easy to transmit.
This is essentially a way to break a concept down to its constituent parts and re-assemble these again in a new and very understandable way. The famous entrepreneur Elon Musk refers to this as thinking from first principles.