Richard Feynman taught us how

There are three questions that humanity is asking. #1. When will this Covid crisis end #2. Can you hear me? #3. Can you see my screen?

Joke floating on WhatsApp

Our work lives have been hijacked by remote working. Innumerable articles are guiding us to try harder to make this work with better ergonomics, improved rhythm, staying hydrated, minimize screen time, heightened video sense and so on. Rightly so.

Yet, I feel an important area of work may not be getting enough attention. ‘Problem solving’. A topic that was already hard enough when we worked together physically, and now will take at hit over the long term – if you don’t change your methods for the same.

I have always believed ‘never waste a crisis’. Hence, this could be the perfect opportunity to change your (team’s) ways of solving problems.

Won’t delve into why is problem solving important, except to say one could argue any organization or role (formal / informal, internal / external, individual / team) is created in the first place to solve a problem. (If such a sweeping statement is above my pay grade, see the quote below)

Launching a business is essentially an adventure in problem solving

Richard Branson

The irony is what follows. We then get trapped along the way to focus on sustaining that organization, instead of solving problems. As a result we create new problems for new organizations to solve !! The irony of any formal organization structure that doesn’t re-invent itself !! Paying respects to Innovator’s Dilemma, I’d like to call this Incumbent’s Paradox (you heard it here first !!).

Innovative organizations, roles and structures created to solve a problem create new problems when self preservation becomes their primary priority – for others innovators to solve !!

Essence of Incumbent’s Paradox

Back to the original discussion on how to protect and improve problem solving in a remote world. On how view this as a window of opportunity to transform your teams to be better problem solvers, than all others focused on productivity.

Richard Feynman is one of the three historical characters I admire and have endless fascination for (Lincoln and Hitchcock being the other two).

“Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible” “Fall in love with some activity, and do it! Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn’t matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough. Work as hard and as much as you want to on the things you like to do the best. Don’t think about what you want to be, but what you want to do. Keep up some kind of a minimum with other things so that society doesn’t stop you from doing anything at all.” “You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird… So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing — that’s what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.”

{Theoretical physicist, Nobel prize winner, Bongo player, Brilliant teacher, Quantum computing pioneer, Nanotechnology pioneer, Manhattan project member, Author, Womanizer, Professor at Caltech, First principles thinker}

Subset to describe Richard Feynman

While Richard Feynman produced many brilliant theories and ideas in his life, many of which as beyond my IQ level to understand, I believe one of his greatest contributions is the ‘Feynman Diagram’.

The collisions and high energy interactions of sub atomic particles are not only very complex, but also seem counter intuitive (we normally ‘assume’ objects touch at a macro level when they collide check out this video typical of Richard Feynman explains WHY nothing ever touches anything).

Equation to explain the ‘simplest’ and the most likely scenario when two electrons collide

As you can see in the equation above, the simplest scenario seems to need fairly complex math.The equation is the representation on how two electrons interact with each other and the photon hit involved in the interaction. There are many more possibilities and this is the simplest, but most likely outcome of the interaction. Can’t imagine what the most complex scenarios look like !!

Feynman Diagram of the same interaction and an alternate to the complex equation

The diagram above represents the same interaction explained by the equation earlier. You can intuitively read that the electrons are interacting thru the emitted photon during the process.

Can’t imagine the mathematical equation behind this scenario

The real genius of Feynman was to come up with a representation that is both simple and precise, intuitive and complex, abstract and detailed. Straddling the contradictions inbuilt in any abstract representation. Prof. Don Lincoln from Fermilab explains in this video how to read a Feynman Diagram and the correlation with the underlying mathematical equation.

Source: FermiLab https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hk1cOffTgdk

I believe for problem solving to survive in this remote world we live in, and even thrive, we need to adopt a version of these diagrams in your own space. Whether you are a data scientist, cloud architect, marketing professional or a general manager – you need to think hard about solving the need for a more visual language for problem solving and remote collaboration. Feynman showed us it can be done for a complex field like Quantum physics, in comparison these areas must be much simpler !!

In a subsequent post I will write about visual representation for solving problems thru Data Science. Feel free to share your version of the Feynman Diagram in your work (life).

Published by SridharTuraga

A dad. A partner. A son. A problem solver. A learner. A teacher.

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