Friday, September 24, 2021

Learning like a Nobel prize winning physicist

Over several upcoming sessions of Code & Coffee we will explore The SOLID principles of object oriented design.  To facilitate that we have a short intro in a future meeting. Today (9/24/2021) there will be an introduction to a framework for facilitating the learning and exploration.

Feynman technique for problem solving:

  • Pick topic
  • Write down everything you know in a note book
    • Add lots of illustrations and examples
    • put it into a rough outline
  • Present it
    • Are you able to present the topic simply, clearly and correctly?
      • If not you have gaps
    • Capture questions 
      • Questions that you are unable to answer are gaps in what you know
  • Simplify
    • Revisit and revise your notes
    • Fill in the gaps discovered in the latest presentation
    • Simplify the language and illustrations
  • Repeat
    • In each iteration you will be able to discover new ways to distill the information and present it more clearly
    • Find a new group that you can present the information to and try again.
This technique works well when preparing for a big presentation.  The first iteration can be presentation to the rubber duck on your desk as even when no other person is present you will notice things to be improved.  Next iteration may be a local user group or in a work lunch & learn.  Then regional and finally the national event.  

Without knowing the framework this is how I prepared for presenting "Disintegration Testing" at QA or the Highway and The Agile Conference in 2014.  Before presenting at the larger venues it was presented and refined at local groups. Even though it is a natural process and was use implicitly being aware and explicit in the process would have allowed the presentation to be even better.  Also missing in that presentation was the focus on continual simplification of the subject.

Feynman's advice is to find a practical problem to apply the topic.  His example for this is the flagpole problem in the "Problem Solving Techniques" video (link 2 in references) starting at about 8:00. This is something to look for when listening to Feynman talk in the links below, it is fascinating to observe the way he explains things knowing that his goal is simplification.


  1. List: Richard Feynman and his technique.
  2. Richard Feynman - Problem Solving Techniques:  (I really like this one, it is part of the list, if you only watch one, make it this one)
  3. Richard Feynman - Computer Heuristics Lecture: (An example of an Nth iteration of him using the technique)
  4. Trello blog post: Boost Your Leadership Skills With The Feynman Technique

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