Richard Feynman - Nobel Prize Profiles in Creativity

Richard Feynman was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1965.  Though he died in 1988, his popularity over the years has continued to grow. Walk into any bookstore and look in the science section, you'll find Feynman's lectures on physics in both print and audio.  Listen to his lectures on tape or CD, and you hear what Larsson calls Feynman's "playful curiosity."  Here are lectures available online.

What distinguishes Richard Feynman?  Ulf Larsson in the Nobel Prize Centennial Exhibition catalog writes of Feynman as "Probably the most playful of all Nobel Prize recipients."

Larsson tells how while watching students toss cafeterian plates in the air that Feynman saw something in that playful act that led to his research into the physics of motion. 

He writes: "As the plate spun, it wobbled.  Feynman was prompted to formualte these motions as a problem in equations, whihc he could then analyze.  Soon he found himself working with other physics problems by using similar techniques and everyday observations.  He had rediscovered happiness and inspiration in his work."

What can we learn from Richard Feynman?  Apart from quantum physics, we can learn to principles of creativity that can benefit leaders.

1.  Playful curiosity - this implies that we approach our work as leaders as an exercise in fun and play, that we are explorers, looking for new insights that can help us. What does business have to do with fun and play?  If the work you do is not enjoyable, fun, even life affirming, then why do you do it?  Or, if it started that way, and became drudgery, then why do you accept that as a given now?

Go to the Feynman website and read the anecdotes about the man.  It is clear that he both had a love for play and laughter that complemented his curiosity, his drive to figure out very difficult problems in theoretical physics.  It is possible that without a playful approach, we never see the whole picture.

2.  Everyday observation - If we make our practice that of looking at everyday situations as Feynman did, with fresh eyes and an inquisitiveness we can find the unrealized potential that resides in most organizations. We have to look.

It reminds me of interviewing the marketing manager of a company with whom I was conducting some planning work.  My one half hour with him was spent with him telling me about some piece of property that he had and wanted to sell.  It was not surprise to me why 18 months later the business was out of business.

To practice everyday observation requires us to focus on the actual work we have to do.  Then we will more clearly see what we must do and what is non-essential. 

Richard Feynman went from watching wobbling plates to the Nobel Prize all because he had a passion for playful problem solving.  It is this kind of leadership that inspires people to greatness.  Feynman's impact will long live on because of his approach to the work he did.  There is much we can learn from him.


2005 A Year of Excellence

Making 2005 a year of excellence means we have to think differently about the "ole New Year's Resolutions."  Just fixing a problem doesn't insure that excellence will result.  Sometimes it is just a higher level of mediocrity that is created.

In order to make 2005 a year of excellence, it requires a different approach.  This is the focus of my latest Real Life Leadership column in the Asheville Citizen-Times.

What we must do is create a vision for the impact we want to have.  This vision needs to be in keeping with our values, can be achieved during the next twelve months, and is one that motivates us to make the necessary investment in time, energy and thought.

I'm in the midst of this myself this week, and I'm identifying some subtle changes in my priorities that will make a big difference down the road.

If you need to know more, email me.

UPDATE: Becasue links to many of my AC-T columns have changed.  Here is the column from 12/27/04 that is linked above.

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