How to learn something well? – Feynman Technique and Humility

feynman4Richard Feynman, the nobel winning Physicist had a great learning technique. The technique, which has come to be known as ‘Feynman Technique’ has been described by many bloggers and writers including his biographer James Gleick.

However what I really like about the technique is the title of it. Let’s understand the technique first. Once for an oral exams Feynman opened a new notebook and titled it, “Notes on things I don’t know about”. He made this a habit. The notebook would start with a title of the topic that Feynman wants to learn. Then he would fill the notebook with explanations and examples. He would write it generally in a way that would help somebody else understand it. Best way to learn something is to explain it to someone. Through these notebooks Feynman literally tried to teach himself something new in the simplest and the most effective manner. Following are the four steps one should follow as per Feynman Technique.

Step 1

Write the name of the concept at the top of the first page of the notebook.

Step 2

Write down an explanation of the concept on the page. Use simple language. Write as if you were explaining to a student who is completely unaware of the topic and the related areas.

Step 3

Review issues and concepts where you feel stuck. Go back to your reference material and try to explain it in lucid language.

Step 4

Review language. If you have used language that is too pompous or complex, simplify it by use of analogies. Try to find examples, proofs or even anecdotes to support  your assertions and propositions.

However what I like the most in this technique is the pretext that he used to set for himself. He used to call this “Notebook of things I don’t know about”. Instead of calling it ‘Musings’, or ‘My Explorations’ etc etc, (names I have seen or heard people frequently use for their journals – diaries – blogs). The title Feynman chooses has two important benefits. First, he defines the contents as ‘things I don’t know about’. As a result, while exploring the subject, his objective is clear, ‘to know’, not just to get acquainted with or informed about. On the other hand, the title implies humility. Humility is the greatest facilitator for knowledge. Arrogance is ignorance. In summary, it’s not just the Feynman technique that made him a great physicist but also his humility and attitude of learning that made him a nobel laureate.

Helio Neto – A Survivor

He was born in Rio De Janeiro. Like many kids of his social milieu, he had deep faith in two things, football and religion. By the age of 21 he was the tallest player in his youth team. He was a strong defender of 197 cm. But he was humble. He never misused his physical strength on the ground. In interviews he used to say, “Não costumo fazer faltas e não sou maldoso”. (I don’t commit fouls and I am not evil). May be that’s why he never really made it to the top league. Despite signing for a team like Santos he ended up in a humble Chapecoense, some thousand kilometers away from his native Rio.

But on 28th November, his team and the support staff boarded a flight for Medellin, Colombia to play the first leg of the final of Copa Sudamericana. Everyone in the team was looking forward to this historical moment. Unfortunately, the plane crashed. Due to poor management by Lamia. Out of 77 individuals on board, only six survived. Helio Neto was one of them. Thirteen days and millions of prayers later he regained consciousness. The first question he asked after opening his eyes was, “What happened in the game?”, before asking why he was injured. All his mind could think of after coming out of coma was the game. Salute!!

While I am writing this, Helio is still under intensive care and is still not completely out of danger. As his father predicted, I am sure he will be fine and will be playing again some day.

By the way, a journalist Roberto Cabrini discovered Helio’s personal Bible from the debris of the plane. He found a particular page bookmarked. The page that talked about, ‘being safe in the shadow of His wings’.

Used-bookstore and Hedonic Treadmill

When I am away from family for work and miss my family, I try to spend some time at the place I love the second most, after family. A used bookstore. Unfortunately, there are not many used bookstores left in our cities and they are increasingly difficult to locate.

Accidentally today I just happened to spot a book store in Lugano. It’s called Punto e Virgola, situated on Via Giuseppe Bagutti. Bookstores are magical places. So much imagination, hard work, struggle and dreams, bound between covers and spread across pages, at one place! If bookstores are magical, used bookstores are nostalgic, romantic and magical. Every book in a used bookstore is a character in itself. Every book carries a hidden story. Every book is a clue to someone’s life. There was this book by a Nobel laureate physicist. I opened it and there was a postcard somebody had sent from Guadalupe to Nice in 1992. Who were those people? Why this postcard was in this book? How this book traveled from France to Italian speaking region of Switzerland? Then there was another book of Bernard Shaw’s lesser known one-act plays. It was the first edition, printed in 1958, owned and read by one “L. L.” Who would that person be? Must be a playwright, because pages where plays were explained were significantly much worn out than the plays themselves. Or probably an actor who wanted to study Bernard Shaw. Or a PhD student working on Bernard Shaw. The book is an American edition. Was “L.L.” an American? Then how did that person end up in this part of Europe?  Then there was this book titled “First Five Pages”. A book for writers. The book claimed to save budding writers from rejections.  Someone had read the whole book with great attention. Every advice-like sentence was highlighted. Some of them were also underlined by a pencil. Maybe two readers had read it. What happened to them? Did they become writers? Did they publish their books? Were they writers? Or just teachers who wanted to teach how to write? Maybe they were frustrated writers who ended up becoming teachers, trying to fulfill their dreams through their students! I don’t want answers to these questions. But each book that I looked at stimulated my mind. Each book threw me further down in a sea of stories. It was like listening to a beautiful song in a language you don’t know. You enjoy every bit of it but you never know what it wants to convey. For a moment it was like getting off the hedonic treadmill.

What is that? We all work hard, set objectives, set targets, and when we achieve them, our emotions turn out to be underwhelming. We are not as happy as we had thought we would be. It’s like being on a treadmill. You walk a lot and still you never move forward. Happiness is like that. You keep working, achieving and still you are as happy (or unhappy) as you were before. You think when you have more money saved you will be happier, or when you buy a house you’ll be happier, or when you work in a better company you’ll be happier. Despite all of this happening, that moment of utmost happiness that you were waiting doesn’t arrive. When we borrow objectives and targets from others, it’s difficult to get off that hedonic treadmill. But when we do something that truly makes us happy, we get off that treadmill and actually move forward. A used bookstore takes me a couple of steps further. Well, if you have reached till this sentence that means you have already figured out what will take you off that hedonic treadmill. So stop reading this now, do what makes you really happy!

Keith Murnighan R.I.P


I have been fortunate to have met some amazingly passionate scholars in my small academic career so far. Keith was probably one of the most passionate scholars I have ever met. His passion for knowledge was contagious. After every class in his PhD course, I left the room wanting to read everything he would have talked about. Keith was not just a great scholar, he was also a humble and loving human being. Every time he talked about a paper written by one of his ex-students (and there are so many of them), one could see that parent-like pride and joy on his face. He genuinely loved everyone he taught. No wonder, he remembered career trajectories and intellectual trajectories of almost all his phd students.

Last time we talked, we talked about going to The Second City – we talked about theater. Unfortunately that will never happen. I hope we had met at least one more time so that I could have thanked you. I want to thank you for introducing me to the exciting world of games and experiments. I want to thank you for all those brainstorming talks. I want to thank you for stimulating conversations about almost everything under the sun. I want to thank you for telling me, “You are doing well!! Keep it up”, in a moment of self-doubt. Thanks for everything. You will be missed!!


Pain and Creativity – Link to my post on IESE Blog

Does Pain Cause Creativity?

  • Link to my post on IESE Blog, on how personal pain and tragedy lead to creative results

‘To make a Dadaist poem’ by Tristan Tzara

Take a newspaper.
Take some scissors.
Choose from this paper an article of the length you want to make your poem.
Cut out the article.
Next carefully cut out each of the words that makes up this article and put them all in a bag.
Shake gently.
Next take out each cutting one after the other.
Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag.
The poem will resemble you.
And there you are – an infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd.

What’s wrong with Pranav Dhanawade’s World Record? – Ethics of a superlative performance in sports

On 1st of July, 2013 at Olympic Stadium in Kiev, Spain and Italy played the final of the Euro 2012. Then reigning world champion Spanish side had completely dominated the final and was leading 4-0 against Italy. When ninety minutes were over, the referee added 4 minutes of injury time. Italians looked physically and emotionally exhausted and some of their stars like Balotelli and Pirlo already had tears in their eyes. At that moment, TV cameras caught Iker Casillas, Spanish captain and goalkeeper repeatedly asking the referee to stop the game. He was asking the referee to show “respect for Italy!”. His actions highlighted an important principle – To keep marauding an exhausted and weakened adversary doesn’t suit the true spirit of any sport. Why do I remember it right now? Because of an Indian School Cricketer, Pranav Dhanwade’s record breaking performance of scoring 1009 runs in a single innings. Pranav broke a century-old record of 649 runs.


Like everybody else when I read about Pranav Dhanawade’s feat I was literally awestruck. In school cricket scoring even a 50 is tough because at that age kids don’t have the physical or mental strength to go on playing for a long period. Pranav Dhanawade batted for a day and a half and achieved this feat. His name is in record books and it will take years probably another century for any other batsman to go even anywhere near him. However after that moment of bedazzled ‘Wow’, when my mind returned to the rational terrain, a question popped up, “Wasn’t there anyone who could take his wicket? For that long a period?”


Pranav Dhanawade deserves every bit of praise and accolades he has been receiving. Pranav comes from a very humble background and he can be a role model for millions of kids like him. But let’s go back to the game. Looking at the scorecard, it’s obvious that there has been an abysmal difference between the two teams. At the end of the first day, Pranav had already broken the world record and was not out on 652. This is what DNA published next morning.

Arya Gurukul School coach Yogesh Jagtap was awestruck by Pranav’s innings. “That was special. I have never seen something like this. Yes, the ground may be small like a Cross Maidan or he was dropped quite a few times by my players, but credit to him for the way he played,” said Jagtap.

“The boys playing for my team were actually from U-14 and most of them playing for the first time. My U-16 team players who were supposed to participate could not come as the principal could not release them due to 10th exams. The boys were under prepared. In fact, such was the impact of his shots that they could not put hand to the ball,” he added.

Yes! You read it right. The boys from Arya Gurukul were from Under-14 team and many playing for the first time. It explains why such a difference between two teams! Anyone who has played sports in school knows very well that from 14 to 16 is the time when a boy undergoes maximum physical changes and under-14 and under-16 teams are completely different ballgames.

A few things in the story that I don’t approve of. First of all, the coach had an opportunity to teach his team an important lesson in sportsmanship. He could have taught the team that it’s almost unethical to torture and decimate someone for personal records in an uneven contest. It’s one thing to dominate someone who is not as gifted or not as skilled as you. But it’s not fair to crush someone who is biologically or physically not equipped to match you. The coach, through Pranav, went for personal glory for himself. I also read that the Coach, Mubin Shaikh, is a generous gentleman who hasn’t even charged any fee from Pranav because of his family’s financial condition. However in the process of Pranav’s world record, the decision of going on with the innings might have caused harm to a few. Just think about those kids, bowlers of Arya Gurukul, some of who weren’t even supposed to be playing on that day! how would they feel? How would they have been received in their school? or the ridicule and bullying they would suffer! For example this piece from Andy Zaltzman? Maybe a few of them would leave cricket altogether. In the end, I just want to say one thing to the coach of Pranav’s team, “Sir, probably you brought in front of us a future star, but you – yourself – missed a chance to teach a lesson in fairness and sportsmanship.”

Jennifer Lawrence and unfair wage practices

Jennifer-Lawrence-Drawing-4Jennifer Lawrence is one of the brightest actors of our times. Be it blockbusters like Hunger Games or Oscar-deserving American Hustler and Silver Linings Playbook, she has excelled in almost every character she has performed. However she also showed a very intellectual side of hers when she wrote a very good essay  about the prevalent wage gap between male and female actors in Hollywood. In her own style and from her personal experiences she highlights two important issues. First, she could have negotiated a better remuneration. Two, she doesn’t do it because probably whenever women try to be blunt or direct, they are perceived as aggressive and need to face a lot more rejection than their male counterparts.

She is absolutely right in her hypotheses. Various experiments have proven that women tend to assert less power mainly because they fear backlash. In a series of studies Victoria Brescoll from Yale showed that the same assertiveness between men and women is treated differently. While even slight assertiveness from women is seen as ‘being too aggressive’, men actually get away with lot more. Not only that it has also been seen that. It is a harsh reality that somehow across cultures women are expected to be ‘nice’. No wonder, Leigh Thompson’s research finds that a difference of a few thousand US Dollars between a man and a woman’s salary in the first job post-MBA, escalates to almost a million dollar difference a couple of decades down the line.

What’s the remedy? Well, there is no evidence that men negotiate better than women. In fact there is evidence that when women negotiate on behalf of somebody else, they actually negotiate better than their male counterparts. The simple remedy is preparation. Women, when they negotiate, should prepare themselves better and understand the total potential of the deal beforehand. Preparation and simple awareness of total value that could be created, would help any negotiator negotiate more ambitiously.

What can corporates do? Simple answer is soul-searching. Ellen Pao, as an interim CEO of Reddit had banned salary negotiations to avoid unfair salary structures and protect female employees from being punished unfairly.  (Also cited here).

However banning negotiations is neither sufficient nor optimal. Corporates should do more soul-searching and create standard negotiation principles across the board which would ensure fairness and equality in salaries across gender, races and social classes.

By the way, Jennifer Lawrence was absolutely right. All she claims is proven by robust research in social science.