Richard Feynman, Spinning Plates and Serious Play

See on Scoop.itLearning, Education, and Neuroscience

By Think Jar Collective founder Ben Weinlick

My first introduction to Feynman came some years ago when hearing that Feynman came up with his Nobel winning Physic’s insight through watching students throw and spin plates in the cafeteria of Cornell University.

I thought it was so cool that a person could have an important insight from something as ordinary and mundane as happening to notice someone amuse themselves by throwing a plate up in the air in a school cafeteria. For me, gaining creative insights or ideas from unexpected places is what initially drew me to research creativity and eventually led to the creation of Think Jar Collective.

There is a pattern that needs to be there for relevant creative ideas to arise. In a nutshell the pattern is something like this…
Focus on a creative challenge for a bit…then let go… repeat many times

If we look a bit deeper the general pattern has the following features…
– Domain Knowledge: You need to know your domain you want creative ideas in (like how Feynman was already a physicist and knew “the rules”)
– Focus: You need to spend a lot of time thinking about your challenge or problem you want some creative ideas around, (Feynman worked on physics problems a lot)
– Let Go: You need to periodically and regularly interrupt the brooding about a problem and do something totally differently (Like how Feynman went down to the cafeteria for a break). Even better if you schedule regular interruptions.
– Serious Play: (Serious means the play is purposeful. This doesn’t mean boring playfulness; spontaneity is part of it. Serious play means you value play as a tool for fostering creative thinking. You have fun with it all; you explore and tease the old rules too. As you’ll soon see Feynman was a master of serious play)

See on


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: