First Principles Thinking: Think Like An Inventor

When it comes to problem solving, there are a few different ways of thinking about things. One way is through first principles thinking. First principles thinking is a way of breaking down problems into their most basic parts in order to find a solution. It can be helpful when you feel stuck on a problem, or when you want to learn something new.

First principles thinking is a powerful mental model to find hidden knowledge.

When people talk about first principles thinking, they are referring to a mode of thinking that is grounded in fundamental truths. By understanding and applying first principles thinking, you can come up with innovative solutions to problems, or see through false arguments. In this blog post, we will explore what first principles thinking is, and how you can apply it in your own life. We will also look at some examples of how first principles thinking has been used to achieve great things.

Aristotle was one of the first to use First Principles in his works to find the truth:

In every systematic inquiry (methods) where there are first principles, or causes, or elements, knowledge and science result from acquiring knowledge of these; for we think we know something just in case we acquire knowledge of the primary causes, the primary first principles, all the way to the elements.


First principles thinking vs Analogous Thinking

First principles thinking: Is it true?

Most people are thinking using one of two methods, first principles thinking or analogous thinking. The first deals with breaking something down to its essence to understand how it works and then trying to piece it back together. The second is where you compare it to something else that is similar to try and gain an understanding. The example that is usually used to explain this concept is asking someone how they would build a house from scratch as opposed to someone who has only ever built houses by working for a construction company. The former would use first principles thinking and the latter would use analogous thinking.

Analogous thinking: It was done before, therefore, it is true.

Analogous thinking is the more prevalent of the two methods as it is how humans have generally been taught to think. We were never asked as children how we would build a house from scratch but instead given a set of blocks and told to build a house out of them. This method of thinking is good for when you need come up with a solution quickly but it does have its limitations. The main problem with using analogous thinking is that you are only limited by your previous experiences. If you have never built a house before then you are not going to be able to come up with a design for one no matter how much you try to analogize it to something else.

First Principles Frameworks

Here are the frameworks that will help you to start practicing thinking from First Principles.

Five Whys Framework

The Five Whys Framework is a powerful tool that can be used to solve problems.

The idea behind the Five Whys Framework is simple: by asking why five times, you can get to the root cause of a problem. This approach can be used to solve problems of all sizes, from personal issues to complex business problems. The key to using the Five Whys Framework effectively is to ask honest questions and to be open to the answers. Only by truly understanding the problem can you hope to find a lasting solution.

The Five Whys Framework is an invaluable tool that can help you to overcome any challenge.

Socratic Questioning

What is Socratic Questioning? It is a method of asking questions that is used to stimulate critical thinking and to help promote deeper learning. The goal is to get students to think more critically and deeply about the concepts they are studying.

There are six types of Socratic questions:

Clarification, Probe assumption, Probe reasoning, Probe implications and consequences, Questions about view point or perspective, and Questions about issues and problems.

Here are some examples of Socratic Questions:
-Could you explain what you mean by that?
-Why do you think that is true?
-What would happen if… ?
-How does that compare with… ?
-What are the strengths and weaknesses of… ?
-What are the implications of… ?
-Which is preferable, X or Y, and why?
-What are the consequences of… ?
-What would you say to someone who disagrees with you?
-How could we find out if that were true?
-What difference does it make whether… ?

Socratic Questioning can be used in any subject area and at any level.

Elon Musk’s First Principle Reasoning Framework

In 2014, Elon Musk gave a now-famous speech in which he outlined his approach to problem-solving, known as First Principles Reasoning. The basic idea is to break a problem down into its component parts and then reason up from there. Rather than trying to come up with a solution that works within the existing system, First Principles Reasoning allows you to question the assumptions that the system is built on. This approach has helped Musk to achieve massive success in his career, and it can be applied to any area of life.

For example, when faced with the challenge of getting people to Mars, Musk didn’t try to figure out how to make existing rockets work better. Instead, he reasoned that the only way to make interplanetary travel affordable was to build a completely new type of rocket. By thinking about the problem from first principles, Musk was able to come up with an innovative solution that has made him a pioneer in the field of space exploration.

How can you use first principles thinking to simplify complex problems or challenges in your life or work?

First principles thinking is a powerful tool for simplifying complex problems or challenges. The basic idea is to break a problem or challenge down into its constituent parts, and then to identify the most essential element of each part. Once you have identified the most essential elements, you can then begin to work on simplify the problem or challenge by addressing each element one at a time. This approach can be particularly helpful when faced with a problem or challenge that seems overwhelming at first. By breaking the problem down into smaller, more manageable pieces, you can quickly gain a better understanding of what needs to be done and how best to proceed.

In addition, first principles thinking can also help you to spot potential areas of improvement or opportunity that you may not have considered before. By taking a step back and looking at a problem or challenge from first principles, you can often find new and innovative ways to address it.

Examples of how first principles thinking has been used successfully in business, science, and everyday life

One of the most difficult things in life is making decisions. With so many different options and factors to consider, it can be tough to know which way to go. Sometimes, the best approach is to think about things in terms of first principles. This means breaking down a problem or situation into its fundamental parts and then thinking about each one separately. This approach can be used in all sorts of different situations, from choosing what to wear in the morning to making major life choices. first principles thinking has also been used successfully in business and science.

For example, Tesla founder Elon Musk has spoken about how he used this approach when developing the company’s electric cars. By thinking about transportation in terms of its fundamental components, he was able to come up with a new and innovative way to design and build cars.

First principles thinking can also be useful in everyday life. For instance, if you’re trying to save money, you could break down your expenses into categories like food, housing, and transportation. Once you’ve done that, you can start to look for ways to reduce your spending in each area. By using first principles thinking, you can make better decisions and solve problems more effectively.

The benefits of using first principles thinking as a problem-solving tool

Most people are used to solving problems in a linear fashion, breaking them down into smaller and smaller pieces until they can find a workable solution. However, this approach isn’t always the most effective, particularly when dealing with complex problems. First principles thinking is an alternative approach that can be particularly helpful in these situations. Rather than breaking the problem down, first principles thinking involves identifying the underlying fundamentals or axioms that the problem is based on. From there, it’s possible to build up a new solution from scratch, rather than simply trying to improve upon an existing one. This approach has been used successfully by some of the world’s most innovative thinkers, including Elon Musk and Steve Jobs. While it may not always be easy, first principles thinking can give you a fresh perspective on even the most difficult problems.

Tips for applying first principles thinking in your own life

First principles thinking is a powerful tool that can be applied to any area of your life. The key is to break down a problem or goal into its component parts, and then to identify the underlying principles that govern each part. Once you have a clear understanding of the principles at work, you can begin to develop creative solutions that are tailored to your specific situation. Here are a few tips for applying first principles thinking in your own life:

  1. Be patient: First principles thinking requires careful analysis and contemplation, so it is important to give yourself ample time to work through the process.
  2. Be persistent: If you get stuck, don’t give up! Try approaching the problem from different angles or breaking it down into smaller pieces.
  3. Be open-minded: First principles thinking often leads to unexpected insights, so be prepared to let go of preconceived notions and explore new ideas.

By following these tips, you can learn to apply first principles thinking to any problem or goal in your life. With practice, you will develop the ability to see the world in a whole new way and to find creative solutions to even the most difficult challenges.

How to practice and reason from First Principles systematically?

The great physicist Richard Feynman once said,

I think it’s much more important to have a fresh idea than to be respected by other people.

Richard Feynman

This quote captures the essence of First Principles thinking: fresh, original thoughts are more valuable than pre-existing knowledge or opinions. To generate fresh ideas, one must practice reasoning from First Principles. In other words, one must break down a problem or question into its individual parts, and then analyze each part independently. Only by understanding the basic ingredients of a problem can one hope to find a truly creative solution. Of course, this process is not always easy, but it is essential if one wants to think like a First Principles thinker. With enough practice, anyone can learn to reason from First Principles and create fresh, original ideas.

First principles thinking is a foundational way of looking at the world that can be used to solve complex problems. It’s also something that can be learned and applied in business. If you want to start using first principles thinking in your own business, or if you need help applying it, connect with Entrustech. We’d love to partner with you and help you grow your business using this powerful way of thinking.