According to his friend and colleague, Gian-Carlo Rota:
Richard Feynman was fond of giving the following advice on how to be a genius. You have to keep a dozen of your favorite problems constantly present in your mind, although by and large they will lay in a dormant state. Every time you hear or read a new trick or a new result, test it against each of your twelve problems to see whether it helps. Every once in a while there will be a hit, and people will say: “How did he do it? He must be a genius!”
More specifically, use the Feynman Algorithm:
- Write the problem down, in an unambiguous way.
- Often this is just as hard as the next step. Indeed, really, really understanding the problem is sometimes the only hard bit: once you really, really understand the problem, the answer may be obvious. Of course, you don’t have to wait until understanding the problem before moving on to the next step, that way lies AnalysisParalysis, just stick a StakeInTheQuicksand and go for it!
- Become convinced it’s important, really important. Think about odd ways to solve it, things you wouldn’t tell other people for fear of being laughed into the next century. Look at simple things, look at really complicated intricate solutions. Then talk to others. Talking to others will allow you to crystallize some of the ideas you have, and produce more ideas for you to think about. Repeat until you have an answer you can write down. If you do this right, immediately before you come up with the answer people will think your almost obsessed with the problem, and the answer to it.
- Note: If you don’t have people to talk to, write down some intermediate results or something to make them become real.
- Some problems don’t have answers, only compromises, or proofs of impossibility. These are also valid answers if you can show that a real answer doesn’t exist.
- Write the answer.