A technique to learn complex concepts in record time, retain knowledge, and study more efficiently.
In his 1974 Caltech commencement address, Richard Feynman made the following statement;
“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”
In essence, this first principle he was talking about was ego, and how this needs to be counterbalanced with intellectual honesty and objectivity. Or more succinctly, don’t fool yourself into thinking you are smart.
We live in a time of abundance, which especially holds true for our access to knowledge, content shock represented by an always exponentially rising sea of information.
The kicker is, it is now easier than ever to misconstrue the extremes of knowing versus understanding, of information versus knowledge.
Luckily, Feynman also developed a technique to act as a shortcut to learning new and complex concepts, while also providing the means to get much closer to knowing.
Central to this is the idea that taking notes is simply proof of reading - but explaining is proof of understanding.
The Feynman Technique is broken down into four steps;
Write the name of a concept at the top of whatever place you are planning to record your notes. While purists will push for a physical pen and paper, this isn’t necessarily prescriptive - for example a whiteboard or digital note taking app may be used, as long as you maintain focus and attention.
Begin to write out an explanation of the concept on your recording area. The important thing here is to write it as if you were explaining it to a layman who has no knowledge of the concept. This will begin to highlight what you understand, but more importantly where you have gaps in your knowledge.
Pinpoint these exact gaps, essentially the areas where explanation is a struggle. Go back to your source material, and reread and relearn these parts. Repeat Step 2 as a feedback loop as many times as you require.
Once you have properly explained the concept, put on your editor's hat. If you are using overly wordy or confusing language (or simply paraphrasing the source material) keep filtering your content. Humans are really good at adding complexity - it takes a lot more cognitive effort to remove it. Simplify your language, and, where possible, use simple analogy.
As you work you should start to internalize the background, context and details. Just make sure you are making the information your own.
Author's note, all frameworks are inherently flawed, so apply them wisely. The utility of a framework is always dependent on the individual problem at hand.