5 Lessons from Richard Feynman


Kevin Bird


August 3, 2021

I recently listened to a biography about Richard Feynman and I had some takeaways that surprised me. I had always vaguely known that Richard Feynman was an interesting guy and a great professor, but this book went so much deeper and taught me some valuable lessons.

Lesson 1: Don’t Stay in Your Lane

Whether you are a writer that has decided to explore a topic that isn’t your forte or an athlete that has taken up a social justice campaign, expanding your boundaries and getting out of your comfort zone will have surprising results. Even if it doesn’t become a passion, it will still give you a perspective you wouldn’t have otherwise had. Being confined to a single topic just because you are good at it can also lead to burnout and won’t let you reach your full potential.

Lesson 2: Don’t Trust and Always Verify

Just because other people agree with the results, doesn’t mean that the results are correct. Being able to reproduce results and understanding the assumptions that have been made by previous researchers can at a minimum help you obtain a more accurate mental model and might even bring up some questions about why certain assumptions were made. Sometimes this might have to be done in stages. Maybe when you are first looking at a new paper, trust everything except for their results and then as you are able to reproduce the results at that layer, go back a layer and re-consider the assumptions that were made. Was X really the best choice for this task? What other options would have been available as alternatives for that task.

Lesson 3: Ask Questions (Even the “Obvious” ones)

If you don’t understand a concept that is being discussed, ask somebody that has more experience to explain it in another way. A lot of the time, these questions will lead to interesting discussions, unexplored knowledge gaps, and sometimes entirely new projects to work on. One great way to learn is to listen to people talk about things that they have learned and ask them questions.

Lesson 4: “I Don’t Know”

Not knowing an answer to a question is not something that should discourage you. On the contrary, knowing that you don’t know the answer to something is a really positive step in the right direction. This also gives you a great chance to improve your knowledge and learn something that you don’t currently know.

Lesson 5: Define the Problem

Whether you are working by yourself or with a group of people, focus on defining the problem before trying to come up with a solution. Use real-world examples when discussing what the problem actually is. Having different viewpoints is great when brainstorming, but make sure everybody is at least focusing on the same problem and not talking past each other.


These five lessons are just the start of what I learned from this book which is also full of entertaining stories and facts about Richard Feynman’s life. It’s well worth the read (or listen).