The Feynman Problem-Solving Algorithm

The Feynman Problem-Solving Algorithm:

  1. Write down the problem
  2. Think real hard
  3. Write down the solution

That’s it. As simple as it gets, yet so difficult.

Rumor has it that this was more of an allusion to Richard Feynman’s legendary problem solving skills. Nevertheless, I find it highly useful for a couple of reasons:

  1. It reminds us that writing down a precise yet comprehensive problem definition is a key step towards a solution. Often enough, this actually is the most difficult part.

  2. The thinking really hard part remains what it is—hard. The good news is: There are some methods and tools to help: George Pólya describes a set of heuristics for solving mathematical problems in his book How to Solve It. Along similar lines, Introduction to the Design and Analysis of Algorithms by Anany Levitin contains an introduction to algorithmic problem solving.

  3. Finally, I consider step 3 as a reminder that formulating the solution requires at least as much care and attention as the previous steps.

Hope this helps.