If you have to explain it...

...you may need to prepare to teach it. At least that's what some really smart people think.

Nobel prize-winning Physicist Richard Feynman explained his method for learning like this:

Feynman Learning Technique:

  1. Choose a concept you want to learn about

  2. Pretend you are teaching it to a student in grade 6

  3. Identify gaps in your explanation. Go back to the source material, to better

  4. Review and simplify (optional)

When you can explain complex ideas in a simple way, you’re inviting people in. We’ve all seen smart people who revel in locking people out by pretending the subject is too complicated for average folks to understand. Feynman believed just the opposite. A deep understanding creates the ability to explain.

When I meet younger people (and let’s face it, I’m meeting people younger than me most of the time I’m meeting people now) the ones who are doing the most interesting design work are also the ones who are teaching folding to friends and ad hoc classes. I believe my understanding grew from writing about and teaching paper airplane aerodynamics.

When I look back through my books, I can see my progress. Some designs grew directly out of a desire to separate concepts for demonstration purposes. The Tumbling Wing is great example. I was looking for a flashy way to explain why glide ratio is different than sink rate. What better way than creating a plane that doesn’t glide?

Teaching paper airplane making will simply make you a better paper airplane maker. It forces you to “know your stuff”. It will also get more people excited about paper airplanes. Simple planes are better to teach because they’re faster to fold and generally simpler to adjust for good flights.

It’s worth remembering that the world record plane is very simple to fold. Sometimes doing the simple things incredibly well pays huge rewards—not in dollars, but in experiences and opportunities to see the world.

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