Nobel-prizewinning physicist Richard Feynman was an eccentric within the scientific community. But he sure got a lot done. I’ve written about some of his productivity strategies in my inc.com column.
That was last year.
Since then Bill Gates has bought the rights to Feynman’s 1964 Cornell University lecture series, The Character of Physical Law, and posted them online in an interactive media player.
The videos are transcribed, embedded with commentary, packed with additional resources, and invite users to take chronological notes while they are watching. And, yes. They are completely free. We owe Gates a big thank-you for his generous gift.
The lectures, roughly 7 hours total, are targeted to first year college students and are easy to follow even if you lack a background in math or physics. Feynman’s intellectual energy and natural curiosity make the videos entertaining and fascinating. Before your know it, they are over.
Gates bought the lectures from Cornell University, the BBC, and the Feynman estate for an undisclosed sum. He has said that if he had the chance to watch the lectures as a student he would have studied physics–not computers. It’s easy to see why. Feynman’s personality, humor, and mathematical excitement are hard to ignore.
The complete Feynman lectures reinforce our old point: unique problem perception isn’t simply for Nobel Prize winning physicists–it’s a skill that can and should be applied in any industry, pursuit, or agenda. The lectures, as a whole, also make another point. Big, exciting, curious thinking is needed in all subject areas. It creates problem solving energy and a big-picture view that welcomes creativity and skepticism.
Here is a short clip from the lecture series below:
The past two weeks have been busy with work and barbecues, so you might have missed these leadership articles:
- When Self-Interest Is Not An Excuse Not to Lead: Leaders can’t let their self-interest get in the way of making tough decisions.
- 3 Generations & Social Technology: Let’s face it: we’re getting older and technology is getting newer. How does this affect the corporate culture generation gap?
- 3 Tested Strategies to Empower Employees: 3 simple rules that are often forgotten by busy leaders.
- Leadership Lessons From Richard Feynman: One of the greatest scientists from the 20th century has a lot to say about leadership–even though it might not be apparent right away.
- The Future of Media Distribution: Leaders must stay on top their industry trends, as shown perfectly in the media distribution business.
Enjoy the articles and enjoy the remainder of the weekend. Over the next week we’ll be looking at leadership lessons from a wide variety of sources.
Feynman, as well as being a left-field thinker, was able to approach problems with a probing light. In the video below he discusses his approach to solving both huge and small problems. His approach consists of three basic rules:
1. Don’t Make Assumptions: No matter what your problem is–don’t assume a possible answer because it will limit your perspective. Let the nature of the problem present itself naturally.
2. Don’t Ever Expect a Fulfilling Answer: Some problems are huge but their answers are sometimes simple. It’s not about finding a nice answer–it’s about learning and understanding.
3. Always, Always, Doubt: Doubting everything is a slippery slope but it will force you ask harder and harder questions and demand more and more answers. As Feynman says, it’s better to doubt everything and ask constant questions than to be content with wrong information.
Feynman wrestles with both large and big questions but his approach is always the same. Leaders who are forced to deal with tough problems should look at them in a similar light. Always doubting, never assuming, and never hoping will help exercise the mind and allow new ideas to surface.
Richard Feynman, the Nobel Prize winning physicist who is a straight-talker from Queens, New York, has spent his whole life trying to see things from a different point of view.
In the interview below (part 1 of 4) Feynman outlines three strategies to think outside the box. They are:
1. Challenge conventional wisdom: Never be happy with an answer or one explanation. Instead, explore it’s meaning and always search for new, more exciting, questions.
2. What’s in a name? Nothing: Never trick yourself into thinking that simply knowing a title or a name of a theory or piece of information is the same thing as understanding a theory or a piece of information. If you do, as Feynman says, “you are going to confuse yourself.”
3. New methods are always needed: New problems are first attacked using old methods and standard scientific theories with little use. New problems, more often than not, require new, exciting, methods.
Feynman can not only teach us about the physical world but he can illustrate the importance of thinking in new directions. It’s important for leaders to find motivation and influence from multiple realms–it will help keep us searching for new methods to conquer new problems.