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The Feynman Method to be a Genius
27 points by sanj on March 8, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 7 comments
Richard Feynman was fond of giving the following advice on how to be a genius. You have to keep a dozen of your favorite problems constantly present in your mind, although by and large they will lay in a dormant state. Every time you hear or read a new trick or a new result, test it against each of your twelve problems to see whether it helps. Every once in a while there will be a hit, and people will say, “How did he do it? He must be a genius!”

Hamming said the same thing:

  Most great scientists know many important problems. They
  have something between 10 and 20 important problems for
  which they are looking for an attack. And when they see a
  new idea come up, one hears them say "Well that bears on
  this problem." They drop all the other things and get after
  it. Now I can tell you a horror story that was told to me
  but I can't vouch for the truth of it. I was sitting in an
  airport talking to a friend of mine from Los Alamos about
  how it was lucky that the fission experiment occurred over
  in Europe when it did because that got us working on the
  atomic bomb here in the US. He said "No; at Berkeley we had
  gathered a bunch of data; we didn't get around to reducing
  it because we were building some more equipment, but if we
  had reduced that data we would have found fission." They
  had it in their hands and they didn't pursue it. They came
  in second!

  The great scientists, when an opportunity opens up, get
  after it and they pursue it. They drop all other things.
  They get rid of other things and they get after an idea
  because they had already thought the thing through. Their
  minds are prepared; they see the opportunity and they go
  after it. Now of course lots of times it doesn't work out,
  but you don't have to hit many of them to do some great
  science. It's kind of easy. One of the chief tricks is to
  live a long time! 
"You and Your Research"


The implied second step to this method is that you have to be constantly on the alert to hear or read about new tricks. In Feynman's time this was much more difficult in industry than in academia, but nowadays thanks to the Internet I suspect it is applicable even if you work a desk job at a software development firm.

This is my excuse for browsing HN all day instead of working. Just being a genius!

I hope you are working towards being effective. I did, and my job basically became read HN for 4+ hours a day.

Yeah it's a lot easier keeping up with the day job these days.

Kudos to you. :-)

Found in Rota's lessons, here: http://www.math.tamu.edu/~cyan/Rota/tenlesses.pdf

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