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The ultimate test of understanding

naitik | September 03-2020 April 3rd-2021 | One Comment
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Here’s a simple test to check whether you really understand a certain topic or not?

Pick the topic of your choice, which you think you know well. Now try explaining it to a 14-15-year-old child or someone who has absolutely zero knowledge about that topic. If you’re successfully able to make the chosen person understand your idea- congrats you do know the topic well after all.

A lot of us might fail at this simple activity including yours truly. I know its difficult to accept the fact that things you thought you knew so well you don’t actually know them so well.

Our brain gives us a false sense of understanding based on mere reading or just knowing about something as understanding it. We take great comfort in the same.

Allow me to introduce the Feynman technique of learning by Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman.

1. Identify a subject or topic

2. Explain it to a child – this would force you to simplify it to a degree where it can be understood by anyone

3. Identify gaps: Places where you are not able to explain or communicate your thoughts with simplicity

4. Go back, reread and then try to explain

Most concepts known to human beings can be explained in simple language. So now if someone who says he knows it well and yet is unable to explain it in a simple manner has probably got it wrong. They are suffering from what is called the knowledge illusion.

Let’s talk about how can things be actually simplified?

Can be done by using analogies of concepts used in our daily life and already understood even by children like the one we used- the concept of gravity to explain mean reversion in the stock market.

Can be done by narrating a story or a real-life experience.

Using examples so relatable that the concept doesn’t feel alien to the listener anymore. Show them how some application of the concept being explained has already been used by them. Like the idea of a pension system is a simple equivalent of saving from today’s salary for your future.

Or the idea of a Systematic investment plan is the equivalent of putting money in a piggy bank the way we used to do in our childhood or the concept of inflation being equivalent of what a $1 could buy in the 1990s vs what it can buy today.

Now one might question why simplify or why do I need to explain it to anyone who has no clue about the topic? It’s simple to communicate.

What is the use of those brilliant ideas you have (imagine a start-up idea or an idea to increase productivity) if you can’t communicate it to people? It won’t work if people don’t understand it.

A huge part of businesses today is marketing your products & services. if you can’t simplify and explain your products to your customers how will you survive?

Join the discussion One Comment

  • […] Simplify: “The definition of genius is taking the complex & making it simple”- Albert Einstein. Simplification is indeed the ultimate sophistication. It may sound easy but simplification is an outcome of complex processes and deep understanding which can come as a product of specialized skill & knowledge. Gaining or losing weight is the simple math of calorie intake. To gain weight you need to intake more calories & vice versa to decrease weight yet most of us struggle to do so.                                     The authors suggest simplification through building habits & through principles/rules. Study of lives of great minds suggests habits like reading, intense focused work in solitude, seeking high-quality input & criticism, and a well-defined routine simplifies a lot of things in your life. Simplifying through rules can be achieved by specializing, being original, and combining originality & specialization into deep thought.  […]

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