Simplicity Is The Ultimate Sophistication

This statement has been attributed variously to Leonardo Da Vinci, Steve Jobs, and Clare Boothe Luce among others.  Whoever said it originally, Richard Feynman (1918-1988) lived it.

Richard Feynman-Wikipedia Public Domain

Feynman was a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of  Technology (Caltech).  He was a leading proponent in the field of quantum electrodynamics (QED).

  • QED describes how light and matter interact.
    • It is the first theory to achieve complete agreement between quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theory of special relativity.

Richard Feynman was a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize For Physics in 1965.  In part, his award was in recognition of what looked like a series of doodles he drew that became Feynman_Diagram_of_Electron-Positron_Annihilation_v2_GNU License_Free_CC3.0known as Feynman Diagrams. (Here illustrating an electron-positron annihilation.)

He used these to visualize the behavior of sub-atomic particles.  The diagrams are a simplified representation of what otherwise could be expressed only in a highly complex, abstract formula that is difficult to understand and to apply.

Although “simplified,” the diagrams have become a standard tool of physicists for calculating probability amplitudes in theoretical particle physics, exemplifying the power of simplicity.

Simplicity is the essence of the insight we addressed in Not All Wandering Minds Are Lost.

The Great Explainer

Feynman was no ivory tower intellectual.  He would mix it up with nearly anyone.  It was common to see him wandering around the floors of other departments avidly engaged with students or other professors concerning their fields of study. One of his favorite pastimes was challenging colleagues to explain any idea they were working on or teaching, whatever it happened to be, using only simple terminology that could be understood by a novice.

He was known “The Great Explainer” for his uncanny ability to articulate even the most complex ideas, such as quantum physics, in a clear, straightforward way that nearly anyone could comprehend.

The Feynman Technique

Richard Feynman created the mental model that came to be known as the Feynman Technique.  It is an effective tool to improve your grasp of current information, to learn new information, to retain information, or to study for a test.  Beyond that, the technique

Continue reading

Simply For The Sake Of Doing It

This summer the Monterey Pop Festival celebrated its 50th anniversary.  There was great music and much reminiscing about the pMP17_Schedule_Finalerformances of the original 1967 lineup featuring among others: Jefferson Airplane, The Who, The Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company (Janis Joplin), Eric Burdon and the Animals, Otis Redding, Simon & Garfunkel, The Mammas & The Pappas, and Steve Miller Band.  But the talk of the three-day event in ’67 was the astonishing performance by Jimi Hendrix, fresh from touring in England, who was invited to appear after the organizers received a recommendation from the Beatles.

Continue reading

Of Butterfly Wings and Compound Interest…

How Small Changes Can Produce Large Effects Sooner Than You Might Think


This is the tale of a college professor, a financial consultant, and a Ph.D. research scientist who saw something few, other than themselves, seemed to have noticed, i.e., how small changes can produce large effects. They have applied this observation in  distinct ways producing a new field of science, significant returns on invested capital, and a revolutionary approach to behavior modification, respectively.

While the applications are different, the powerful, underlying core principle is the same.

Continue reading