First-principles thinking is one of the best ways to reverse-engineer complicated problems and unleash creative possibility.
A first principle is a foundational proposition or assumption that stands alone and can’t be broken down any further.
Cooking as an example
The difference between the cook and the chef: terms often used interchangeably yet have an important nuance.
- The chef is a trailblazer, the person who invents recipes.
- Understands the flavor profiles and combinations at a fundamental level that doesn’t require a recipe
- He has real knowledge vs know-how
- The cook, who reasons by analogy, uses a recipe
- He creates something, perhaps with slight variations, that’s already been created.
- If the cook lost the recipe, he’d be screwed
First-principles reasoning cuts through dogma and removes the blinders. We can see the world as it is and see what is possible.
Techniques for Establishing First Principles
- Socratic Questioning
- A disciplined questioning process, used to establish truths, reveal underlying assumptions, and separate knowledge from ignorance
- The Five Whys
- Often employed by children to understand what’s happening in the world
- An interrogative technique exploring the cause-and-effect relationship of problems
Employing First Principles in Your Daily Life
- Move away from incremental improvement and into possibility
- Letting others think for us means that we’re using their analogies, their conventions, and their possibilities. It means we’ve inherited a world that conforms to what they think.
- When we step back and cut through the flawed analogies, we see what is possible.
- First-principles thinking clears the clutter of what we’ve told ourselves and allows us to rebuild from the ground up.