⚛️ First Principles Thinking

First Principles Thinking involves breaking down a problem or concept into its most basic, fundamental components. It requires starting from scratch and deducing everything from the ground up based on fundamental laws and principles.

Daniel Jarjoura
Daniel Jarjoura

Let's talk about thinking in First Principles.

💡
First Principles Thinking involves breaking down a problem or concept into its most basic, fundamental components. It requires starting from scratch and deducing everything from the ground up based on fundamental laws and principles.

🤔 Why you should care about it

"And as I observed that this truth, I think, therefore I am, was so certain and of such evidence that no ground of doubt, however extravagant, could be alleged by the Sceptics capable of shaking it, I concluded that I might, without scruple, accept it as the first principle of the philosophy of which I was in search." - René Descartes, French philosopher, scientist, and mathematician, in Discourse on the Method.

By understanding a problem's underlying principles and fundamentals of a problem, CTOs and technology leaders can make more informed decisions that are less likely to be influenced by assumptions or past experiences. First Principles Thinking is also an effective model for dealing with complex problems with little to no documented solutions.

😫 Problem(s)

Reasoning by analogy, i.e. relying on assumptions or past experiences, leads to:

  • Confirmation bias, where one's preconceived notions and past experiences influence how they interpret and understand new information;
  • Failure to identify new opportunities;
  • Solving the wrong problem, failing to find the root cause of a problem;
  • Lack of creativity and a failure to think out of the box.

😃 Solution

To think in First Principles:

  1. Identify the problem or concept you want to understand;
  2. Break it down into its most basic components. Ask yourself, "What are the fundamental principles or laws that govern this problem or concept?"
  3. Research and gather information about the fundamental principles and laws that govern the problem or concept;
  4. Begin to build a logical chain of reasoning, starting from the most basic principles and laws and deducing everything else from there;
  5. Be open-minded and question assumptions;
  6. Once you have a good understanding of the problem or concept, use this knowledge to generate new ideas and potential solutions;
  7. Repeat the process. First Principles Thinking is an ongoing process, and it's essential to question assumptions and look for new ways to understand and solve problems.

💡 Key Concepts

Scepticism —> the attitude or belief that doubt should be suspended or withheld until there is sufficient evidence to support a claim,

Methodological doubt —> a systematic, evidence-based process that aims to arrive at a deeper understanding of a problem or concept.

Epistemology —> the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of knowledge, belief, and justification

😡 Detractors

"We don't always have the time to go back to first principles" —> breaking down a problem to its most basic elements allows for a deeper understanding of the problem, leading to a more efficient and effective solution.

"For some problems, relying on past experiences is sufficient" —> while past experiences and assumptions can be helpful, they can also lead to a confirmation bias and a failure to consider alternative solutions.

"You don't need to overcomplicate everything" —> First Principles Thinking may seem complex, but sometimes you must go through a complex path to find a simple solution.

📚 Top book

The Logic Of Failure: Recognizing And Avoiding Error In Complex Situations - Dietrich Dorner

🗂 See also

🧠 Mental Models

➡️ Systems Thinking

📝 Top content

First Principles: The Building Blocks of True Knowledge - Farnam Street

The First Principles Method Explained by Elon Musk - Innomind

First Principles Thinking In Software Development - Ben "The Hosk" Hosking


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Daniel Jarjoura

Helping CTOs scale their team and grow as leaders | Founder @ The Unicorn CTO | Solopreneur