What Is The Feynman Technique And Why It Matters In Business

The Feynman Technique is a mental model and strategy for learning something new and committing it to memory. It is often used in exam preparation and for understanding difficult concepts. Physicist Richard Feynman elaborated this method, and it’s a powerful technique to explain anything.

Understanding the Feynman technique

The Feynman technique is named after Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, who developed the technique to understand a topic in its entirety.

There are four steps to the technique:

  1. Pick a topic that you want to understand completely. Although Feynman used the technique to study physics, it can be used for any topic.
  2. Once you think you have an adequate understanding, explain it to someone else as if they were a grade 6 student. The use of plain and simple language is key.
  3. If there are gaps in the explanation or if you resort to technical terms, go back to the source material to better understand it.
  4. Review what you have learned and then repeat the process from step 2. Importantly, the concept must be understood by a person with no prior base knowledge on the topic.

The premise behind the Feynman technique is that to explain something well, one must have the ability to explain it simply. Indeed, the technique is often associated with the famous Albert Einstein quote: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Benefits of the Feynman technique for businesses

In addition to grasping difficult concepts, there are several other benefits to the Feynman technique.

Identifies gaps in knowledge

Through the evaluative four-step process, it is inevitable that knowledge gaps will be present themselves. Identifying and then addressing knowledge gaps strengthens the understanding of both the teacher and the student. Businesses can also identify certain gaps in their marketing and communication strategies and adjust accordingly.

For example, they should be able to concisely communicate company values and product benefits if asked to do so. Removing knowledge gaps also ensures that all employees, regardless of role or department, are aware of company and product values.

Useful in communicating traditionally text-heavy, complex ideas 

The Feynman Technique is also useful for those who prefer not to write. Feynman himself was a fan of communicating his ideas through the spoken word. He also used somewhat cartoonish diagrams to communicate complex scientific ideas and tell stories that the average person could relate to.

Organizations that sell complex ideas by necessity, such as stock market investment firms, may find the Feynman technique useful in attracting clients.

Improves teaching skills

The teachable course industry in the United States is predicted to grow to $325 billion by 2025. Businesses who operate in this space can use the Feynman Technique to successfully communicate major course ideas and themes to a wide and varied audience. This gives them a competitive advantage over others and strengthens their position as experts in their industry.

Key takeaways:

  • The Feynman technique is a strategy for learning a new concept and memorizing it to the extent that it can be explained to others in plain, simple language.
  • The Feynman technique comprises four steps, with the primary objective being to describe a concept to a person with no prior knowledge in that concept.
  • The Feynman technique has several benefits for businesses. It allows then to identify gaps in operations while also communicating complex ideas to colleagues, potential clients, and customers.

Connected Thinking Tools

First-Principles Thinking

First-principles thinking – sometimes called reasoning from first principles – is used to reverse-engineer complex problems and encourage creativity. It involves breaking down problems into basic elements and reassembling them from the ground up. Elon Musk is among the strongest proponents of this way of thinking.

Six Thinking Hats

The Six Thinking Hats model was created by psychologist Edward de Bono in 1986, who noted that personality type was a key driver of how people approached problem-solving. For example, optimists view situations differently from pessimists. Analytical individuals may generate ideas that a more emotional person would not, and vice versa.

Speed-Reversibility Matrix


Ladder of Inference

The ladder of inference is a conscious or subconscious thinking process where an individual moves from a fact to a decision or action. The ladder of inference was created by academic Chris Argyris to illustrate how people form and then use mental models to make decisions.

Second-Order Thinking

Second-order thinking is a means of assessing the implications of our decisions by considering future consequences. Second-order thinking is a mental model that considers all future possibilities. It encourages individuals to think outside of the box so that they can prepare for every and any eventuality. It also discourages the tendency for individuals to default to the most obvious choice.

Moonshot Thinking

Moonshot thinking is an approach to innovation, and it can be applied to business or any other discipline where you target at least 10X goals. That shifts the mindset, and it empowers a team of people to look for unconventional solutions, thus starting from first principles, by leveraging on fast-paced experimentation.

Design Thinking

Tim Brown, Executive Chair of IDEO, defined design thinking as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” Therefore, desirability, feasibility, and viability are balanced to solve critical problems.

Lateral Thinking

Lateral thinking is a business strategy that involves approaching a problem from a different direction. The strategy attempts to remove traditionally formulaic and routine approaches to problem-solving by advocating creative thinking, therefore finding unconventional ways to solve a known problem. This sort of non-linear approach to problem-solving, can at times, create a big impact.

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