The Feynman Algorithm

Excerpted from:

1. Write down the problem.

2. Think real hard.

3. Write down the solution.

How to use the Feynman Algorithm

1. Write the problem down in an unambiguous way. Often this is just as hard as the next step. Indeed, really, really understanding the problem is sometimes the only hard bit. Once you really, really understand the problem, the answer may be obvious.

2. Become convinced it’s important. Really important. Think about odd ways to solve it, things you wouldn’t tell other people for fear of being laughed into the next century. Look at simple things. Look at really complicated intricate solutions. Then talk to others. Talking to others will allow you to crystallize some of the ideas you have, and produce more ideas for you to think about. Repeat until you have an answer you can write down. If you do this right, immediately before you come up with the answer people will think you’re almost obsessed with the problem and the answer to it.

Note: If you don’t have people to talk to, write down some intermediate results or something to make them become real.

Some problems don’t have answers, only compromises, or proofs of impossibility. These are also valid answers if you can show that a real answer doesn’t exist.

3. Write the answer.


The Hole-in-the-Wall

The following is an excerpt from Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think (pgs 174-177). I’m excerpting this here because I found it to give such a great insight into one potential future for education.

In 1999 the Indian physicist Sugata Mitra got interested in education. He knew there were places in the world without schools and places in the world where good teachers didn’t want to teach. What could be done for kids living in those spots was his question. Self-directed learning was one possible solution, but were kids living in slums capable of all that much self-direction?

At the time, Mitra was head of research and development for NIIT Technologies, a top computer software and development company in New Delhi, India. His posh twenty-first century office abutted an urban slum but was kept separate by a tall brick wall. So Mitra designed a simple experiment. He cut a hole in the wall and installed a computer and a track pad, with the screen and the pad facing into the slum. He did it in such a way that theft was not a problem, then connected the computer to the Internet, added a web browser, and walked away.

The kids who lived in the slums could not speak English, did not know how to use a computer, and had no knowledge of the Internet, but they were curious. Within minutes, they’d figured out how to point and click. By the end of the first day, they were surfing the web and—even more importantly—teaching one another how to surf the web. These results raised more questions than they answered. Were they real? Did these kids really teach themselves how to use this computer, or did someone, perhaps out of sight of Mitra’s hidden video camera, explain the technology to them?

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Colin Furze has passion

I just discovered his YouTube channel last night, but I can already say: Colin Furze has passion. A lot of it. His day job is plumbing, but his hobby is inventing. I might also call him a mad genius, pyromaniac, or maybe just completely crazy. In a series of projects he turned himself into three X-Men. He built fully retractable pneumatic claws for Wolverine, wrist mounted flame throwers for Pyro, and electro-magnetic boots that let him walk on the ceiling for Magneto.

Beyond his human-mutant creations, he also built a pulse jet out of scrap car parts. Which–being a mad genius–he then mounted on various things he found around the house: a bicycle, a baby carriage, a van, and a snowblower.

And then there’s that laughter. The maniacal, hysterical laughter. It’s a constant in his videos and I love it! When watching the how it’s made videos you can tell this guy is wicked sharp, extremely resourceful, and above all else, passionate. On his website he explains as a kid his dad wouldn’t let him use their shed, so he built a workshop out of second-hand tools in his bedroom and subsequently sprayed oil on the walls. Currently holds the world record for the largest bonfire and has attempted to set records for the fastest mobility scooter and fastest stroller.

Check out his website at

The Success Chain

Yesterday I attended an excellent session with Dan Sedor of Leadership Resources as part of the AIM IT Leadership Academy. The theme of the day was self-management–techniques for continually improving our leadership skills. The Success Chain was one technique we covered for building new habits. In the success chain, each step builds upon the previous. In order, they are:

1. Spaced repetition
2. Conditioning/Experience
3. Attitudes (Habits of Thought)
4. Actions/Behaviors
5. Results/Outcomes
6. Success

Studies have shown that people need to hear an idea 6-8 times before they internalize it as their own–inception, if you will. This applies to communicating goals to your team, as well as repeating thoughts or affirmations to yourself as part of a habit building exercise.

Each time a goal, thought, or action is repeated, it becomes a stronger experience in memory. Eventually, you will condition your thoughts to treat this goal or affirmation as your own attitude–and this is key. Once something becomes part of your attitude it will naturally influence your behavior.

By using a system of setting goals and evaluating the results, over time you can use the success chain to develop behaviors and habits that have a positive outcome for you and your organization. Only through determination will you reach the success step.

During our discussion I volunteered an example of how a similar system has been working for me. Six weeks ago I set a goal to start going to the gym four days a week. I have been a CrossFit member for over a year now, but sometimes I find it difficult to keep going. The workouts are intense and when I’m still sore from the previous workout I want to skip one. Sometimes this compounds into missing weeks at a time. In order to change this I did two things: I shared my goal with other members and then I adopted the micro-goal strategy from Maneesh Sethi’s Hack The System blog. The micro-goal system is a way of setting trivially small goals that contribute to a larger goal. In my case, the reason I was missing workouts was soreness. To rectify this, I set a goal of going to CrossFit 15 minutes early four days a week in order to use their foam rollers and stretch. This helps an incredible amount. As a side-effect, now I am at the gym and stretched out just before class starts. Other people are arriving for class and when I comment that I’m too exhausted they always talk me into joining them. There has been a positive outcome for me as well. About a month after regularly attending workouts I started to notice a significant strength improvement. I discovered I had not been pushing myself to my limit. Now I have the confidence to push each workout a little bit harder and increase the weight more than I would have before. For me, I would call that success.

Un-shelving dreams

Do you have a dream that you shelved? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately while searching for my Single Motivating Purpose. I’m happy to find that one of my inspirators, Lindsey Stirling, recently wrote about this very topic. Lindsey, if you don’t know, is passionate about music and dancing. At 6 years old she started learning violin. Her family couldn’t afford dance lessons, but that never stopped her from making up her own. During high school she taught herself to edit videos and during college started a Youtube channel posting music videos of herself playing violin. After being a quarter-finalist on America’s Got Talent in 2010, her channel exploded and is now one of the most subscribed channels on Youtube. Here is her story about un-shelving her dream of dancing.

Have you shelved a dream? I think it’s time to take it down and explore it again.

How to Be Creative (according to John Cleese)

I recently found this video of John Cleese presenting several tips for managing your time to become more creative. I found these tips to be very simple to follow and plan to use this myself on some upcoming projects. The following is a summary his presentation. If you have the time, I highly recommend watching the whole thing.

According to research referenced by John, those who are most creative do not have any special talent or IQ. Rather, they have acquired a facility for getting themselves into a childlike mood where they are allowed to play with ideas, not for any practical purpose but for enjoyment. If you want to be creative, you need to practice getting into this mindset.

He points out that there are two modes of thinking: open and closed. The closed mode is our normal mode of operation while at work. It’s when we are purpose driven, have lots to do, not enough time, and may be a cause of stress. The open mode on the other hand is a relaxed state of mind when we are more contemplative or even humorous. This is not the same thing as being idle, however. Being in the open mode encourages creative idea generation.

When brainstorming solutions to a difficult problem we need to be in the open mode. Once you have an idea, switch to the closed mode to implement the solution. If you get stuck, switch back to open mode.

John says we too often get stuck in the closed mode. We can get tunnel vision attempting to accomplish our goals. He criticizes the formal attitude of business meetings–who can come up with great ideas while being so reserved? It’s important to encourage creativity and even humor in meetings.

Certain conditions make it more likely you will get into the open mode:

  1. Space – Find a quiet, undisturbed space where you can work. The goal is to have a space-time oasis away from the real world.
  2. Time – We can’t be in open mode all the time. Designate a fixed amount of time– say 90 minutes–during which you ignore all distractions to brainstorm. It’s common to start thinking about things you should be doing instead. Ignore those thoughts. You have to make time for creativity to happen.
  3. Time (again) – Don’t accept the first answer you come up with; keep playing with the problem until you are satisfied with the solution.
  4. Confidence – Be open to anything.  You may not find an answer but this is okay.
  5. Humor is the fastest way to get into the open mood. Inject humor into a serious meeting where creative, original solutions are needed; don’t consider it to be taboo.

When you are brainstorming, keep your mind near the subject. It is like daydreaming. Sooner or later you will get a gift from your subconscious… but only if you put in the pondering time.

John says he can get even more creative when there are two people involved. But don’t play with someone that makes you feel defensive. Don’t criticize what is being said. Use phrases like “let’s pretend” or “can you clarify” to keep the discussion productive.

If you are stuck, try making random connections. Don’t get fooled by randomness though. The connections are only useful if they create new meaning. Use your intuition to determine if the connections have significance to you. Sometimes deliberately absurd connections– “intermediate impossibles”–can be used as a stepping stone to an idea that is right. When you are playing, nothing is wrong.