“If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.” — Albert Einstein
Long ago I heard Tony Robbins say if you want to learn faster, then teach what you want to learn.
He was right.
I applied this idea of “teach what you want to learn” at Microsoft for years to learn new technologies and new domains much faster.
This also helped me turn blogging into a process for rapid learning.
I also use it with books.
I find it I can quickly teach a book to someone who hasn’t read it yet, it helps me better understand the book. And because I know I will try to teach the book to someone, I read the book in a deeper way.
Later I learned about the Feynman Technique.
The essence of the Feynman Technique is to teach an idea as if to a child.
- Teach to Learn Faster: Teaching a concept forces deeper understanding and better memory retention.
- Feynman’s Simplicity: Explaining complex ideas in a simple way highlights your knowledge gaps and strengthens mastery.
- Learn by Planning to Teach: Anticipating teaching encourages more thorough learning.
- Simplicity Equals Mastery: True grasp of a subject is shown through simple explanation.
- Analogies Break Barriers: Effective metaphors simplify complex ideas, enhancing comprehension across cultures.
What is the Feynman Technique?
The Feynman Technique is a method for learning and understanding concepts deeply by explaining them in simple terms.
The Feynman Technique is named after the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman.
Feynman was known for his ability to explain complex principles in accessible and straightforward language.
This technique is grounded in the idea that teaching a concept is one of the best ways to understand it.
How To Use the Feynman Technique
The Feynman Technique involves four key steps:
- Choose a Concept: Pick a topic or concept you want to learn about.
- Teach it to a Child: Explain the concept as if you are teaching it to someone with no background in the subject, such as a young child. Use simple language and avoid jargon. The goal is to make the explanation clear and straightforward.
- Identify Gaps in Your Understanding: As you attempt to explain the concept, pay attention to areas where you struggle to use simple terms or find gaps in your understanding. These are the areas you need to study further.
- Review and Simplify: Refine your explanation, until you can describe the concept in the simplest terms possible. This may involve breaking down the concept into its fundamental parts, using analogies, or even creating diagrams to aid understanding.
Why is the Feynman Technique So Effective?
The Feynman Technique is effective because it forces you to actively engage with the material, rather than passively reading or memorizing it.
By attempting to teach the concept, you must organize your thoughts and make the information coherent.
This deepens your understanding and helps uncover any misunderstandings or gaps in knowledge.
Practice Metaphors and Analogies with the Feynman Technique
I remember how Tony Robbins said that the fastest way he can teach an idea is by finding the right metaphor or analogy.
He said sometimes the right metaphor can work across language and cultural barriers, too.
I appreciate the power of the right metaphor or analogy so much that I actually collect them.
The right metaphor can also completely change your experience of how you learn something, too.
For example, whether “life is a dance” or “life is a tragedy” or “life is a comedy” each invoke a very different expectation and shape a very different experience.
Teach Complex Concepts in Simple Terms to Learn Better
The Feynman Technique illuminates a fundamental principle:
Deep comprehension is achieved by your ability to distill and convey complex concepts in simple terms.
This method not only sharpens your understanding but also democratizes knowledge, making it more accessible to everyone.
Engaging with material as both learner and teacher accelerates your intellectual growth and improves your mastery.
This is an example of the power of clarity in the pursuit of wisdom.
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