Gain Clarity with the Feynman Technique

“I learned very early the difference between knowing
the name of something and knowing something.”
Richard Feynman


Do you say “I read it in a book” or do you really know how it works? So many people learn the buzzwords and really don’t understand the underlying concepts. Which comes out when you start having a detailed conversation on the topic. I’ve had this happen and I feel embarrassed that I do not know enough and also frustrated because there is never enough time to learn everything. Then there is the fact that we only retain about 10% of what we read. According to the learning pyramid, from the NTL Institute for Applied Behavioral Science, we retain 10% from reading, 20% from audio/visual, 30% from demonstrations, and 90% from teaching others what we have learned.

The moral of the story – begin teaching others to become smarter! Seriously, you will retain more of what you learned if you prepare and hopefully teach others the techniques you’ve learned. It is called the Feynman Technique and it defines how to quickly learn pretty much anything. The concept breaks a topic down into its core and then explains it a 5 year old.

There are several variations on the web, but the technique may be defined as:

  1. Choose a Concept
  2. Explain it to a 5 year old
  3. Understand your knowledge gap
  4. Simplify as much as possible
    1. Use Analogies, stories, etc..

In the Real-World

The process really is straightforward. We want to write an explanation that is simple, not stupid and unintelligent, but simple, clear, and concise. Here are the steps:

  1. Get out a piece of paper (or word, etc.)
  2. At the top write the topic or subject you want to clarify and teach to another
  3. Begin explaining the topic in your writing on the paper.
    1. Use simple language
    2. Use Diagrams
    3. Use Analogies and stories
  4. Review the draft for lack of clarity or missing content.
    1. Go back and research
    2. Update the document and continue the loop reviewed in #3 above
  5. Final review is looking to see that we’ve obtained clarity.
    1. Look for any technical jargon, etc..
    2. Update the document to provide additional clarity


Record Yourself

Another technique I recommend is recording yourself. With today’s technology you can easily record and review your progress. Check if you are clear and concise when teaching the topic or are you pausing, skipping, or just lost on the details? Do this until you are able to explain the topic clearly. The camera will help you with presentation skills as well.


Good Video

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