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:

Pick a topic that you want to understand completely

Although Feynman used the technique to study physics, it can be used for any topic.

Explain it to someone

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.

Understand gaps and go back to understand it better

If there are gaps in the explanation or if you resort to technical terms, go back to the source material to better understand it.

Review and repeat

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.

Feynman technique examples

To conclude this article on the Feynman technique, we will explain how it can be applied to some easily relatable examples.

Learning Spanish

You can use the Feynman technique to not only learn a new language but also understand the intricacies of the language itself.

Suppose you’re employed by a global firm that wants you to relocate to Spain and take up a new role. 

The employee starts by listing what they already know about the topic:

  • In Spanish as in French, noun usage is dictated by gender.
  • In the vast majority of cases, masculine nouns end in “o” and feminine nouns in “a”.
  • Articles also vary according to gender.

The individual then writes the following statement as if they were describing Spanish to a young child:

All nouns have a gender in Spanish. For example, el teléfono (the telephone) is a boy and la mesa (the table) is a girl. Most of the time, you can use the last letter of the noun to tell its gender. Nouns that end in “o” mean it’s a boy, while nouns that end in “a” mean it’s a girl.

Once the employee reads the statement to their 8-year-old daughter, she asks for clarification on gender, nouns, and articles.

With youthful curiosity, she also wonders how one can tell the gender of an object just by looking at its article. 

In the final step, the individual refines his explanation with the following clarifications:

  • Every object in the Spanish language is either a boy or a girl. We call this gender.
  • Objects, people, place names, and many other things are nouns. Table, telephone, and New York City are all examples of nouns.
  • In Spanish, articles are words that come before the noun. “La” is the article used for feminine (girl) nouns, while “el” is the article used for masculine (boy) nouns. Now you have two ways to tell the gender of an object.
  • It’s also important to remember that in Spanish, a table is simply not mesa but la mesa.

Pythagorean Theorem

In the second example, a mathematics teacher uses the technique to find a simple way to explain the Pythagorean Theorem to their students.

On a sheet of paper, the teacher starts with a simple explanation of the theorem which reads as follows:

For any right angled triangle, you find the squared length of the hypotenuse (this is the longest side) by adding the squared lengths of the other two sides. Formula: A2 + B2 = C2 with C equalling the length of the hypotenuse in the measurement chosen”

Below this description, the teacher draws a diagram of a right-angled triangle and includes a sample calculation. 

To make the concept simpler to understand, they ensure that the length of the hypotenuse is a perfect square. In other words, a number whose square root yields a whole number without decimal points.

CSS box model

Suppose we have an amateur coder who wants to review the CSS box model before offering website-building services to clients. The code starts with the following description:

Every HTML element (images, paragraphs, headings, divs) is contained within a box. When one alters the properties of this box, one can control the amount of white space around the element and how its border works. One can then use this information as the basis for the layout of a webpage.

The coder then draws a basic diagram of a CSS box, labels it with the four components, and provides a brief explanation for each:

  1. Content box – the area where content is displayed that can be sized using the dimensions width and height. Note to self: padding, border, and margin are added to these dimensions (not included).
  2. Padding box – the white space between an element and its border.
  3. Border box – may be visible or invisible and wraps the content and any padding. Width and style can also be altered.
  4. Margin box – the outermost space between the border and margin edge of the next element. The margin box wraps the content, padding, and border boxes.

Like the employee who wants to learn Spanish and the maths teacher that wants to explain the work of Pythagoras, the coder then explains his understanding of the topic to a child and moves through the same process of identifying knowledge gaps and simplification.

Feynman Technique Vs. Active Recall

Active recall enables the practitioner to remember information by moving it from short-term to long-term memory, where it can be easily retrieved. The technique is also known as active retrieval or practice testing. With active recall, the process is reversed since learning occurs when the student retrieves information from the brain.

Active recall is another effective technique to move short-term memory into a long-term one.

Couples with the Feynman Technique active recalling might further improve the ability to learn things quickly while memorizing them long-term.

Active recall usually leverages three methods:

Feynman Technique Vs. Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique was created by Italian business consultant Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The Pomodoro Technique is a time management system where work is performed in 25-minute intervals.

The Pomodoro technique also proved quite effective as a study technique, to have time slots blocked for focus time without destruction.

The technique ensures that while you’re learning, you’re focused and take regular breaks from distress.

This is a form of learning that leverages eustress by following these steps:

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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