Most of the people on the earth don’t know how to think. And it is a harsh reality. No one teaches you how to think. Not even teaching institutes like Schools, Colleges, and Universities. The first principle of thinking is where you can begin your journey.
If you know how to approach a problem then it becomes easy to tackle it. Most of the time we don’t know what to do in such a situation. It is common practice to prefer someone else’s opinion on that particular problem.
Only if we know how to approach a problem then we can come up with the solution ourselves, instead of depending upon people’s opinions. You can get this power by first principle thinking.
You can solve your problems and sometimes come up with innovative solutions.
A fun fact, most entrepreneurs use this principle knowingly or unknowingly.
What is the First Principle Thinking?
First Principle Thinking is the process of breaking down concepts into fundamental parts. It is done by questioning every assumption you make, breaking them to their core, and trying to create a whole new solution.
It is also called reasoning from first principles. It is the process of breaking down the problems and generating solutions from scratch.
This approach is what makes entrepreneurs stand out from the crowds. First principle thinking example, Steve Jobs launched the first iPhone combining the iPod, a digital camera, a computer, and a cellular phone, and presented the first iPhone. He broke what people wanted, song, camera, and call features—then integrated them into one device instead of carrying many devices.
The same goes for a mouse and a touchscreen invented by Apple. But it came into limelight when Elon Musk spoke openly in an interview with Chris Anderson. He shared how first principle thinking helped him acquire materials for SpaceX at a much cheaper cost than the market price.
Let me quote what he said, “I tend to approach things from a physics framework,” Musk said in an interview.
“Physics teaches you to reason from first principles rather than by analogy. So I said, okay, let’s look at the first principles. What is a rocket made of? Aerospace-grade aluminum alloys, plus some titanium, copper, and carbon fiber. Then I asked, what is the value of those materials on the commodity market? It turned out that the materials cost of a rocket was around two percent of the typical price.”Elon Musk
This way he created a rocket at a much lower cost than other space agencies in the world. Instead of buying a rocket for millions of dollars, Musk decided to make his own at a much lower cost. And it worked. NASA had tied up with SpaceX to launch rockets in the future.
Well, Musk didn’t stop there. He applied this rule to all his enterprises, Tesla, Paypal, Neuralink, and his upcoming project Solar City.
Musk isn’t the only one who used this method to solve the problems. Aristotle, Thomas Edison, Feynman, Euclid, and Nikola Tesla used this method to solve many problems. This method also helps you come up with creative and innovative solutions.
Musk broke it down into 3 steps
Step 1: Identifying and defining your current assumptions
Write down all your thoughts and ideas about the current problems. What is the cause of the problem, and what kind of obstacles are coming to solve the problem? What solution do you think is possible for that problem? A brain dump.
“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”Albert Einstein
Once you write down your assumptions about a problem, a multiple scenario of what if, then comes the next step, breaking down the problems into fundamental principles.
Step 2: Break down the problems into fundamental principles
Now break down the problems to its core. In previous examples of Steve Jobs. He was thinking about how to give the experience of listening to the song, moment capturing, and using the phone in one device.
He added software for the iPod into the phone, fitted a camera to capture the moment, and installed needed features to run them. Plus, he went one step further and created a touch screen. People went crazy behind it.
“It is important to view knowledge as a sort of semantic tree. Make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e. the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.”Elon Musk
These are the fundamentals of any material, problems, and solutions. Once you know what is the trunk, and what things are creating or sustaining the problems then you can figure out how to deal with it.
Step 3: Create a new solution from scratch
After writing down assumptions and breaking them into their fundamentals, building a new solution becomes an easier task. It’s like a Lego puzzle.
You have a final image in front of you. Then you assume this much amount of pieces needed, with particular shapes and sizes. Now break the image into its core parts. This way you will have more options to choose from or to create or innovate the same image.
No one ever thought you could make a movie out of Lego, a children’s toy. Fun fact, DC took it to a whole new level. They made movies like Batman, Justice League, Shazam, Aquaman, and Flash. Guess what, the Avengers too jumped in the race.
This is how you make new things out of the problems. There is a silver lining in new solutions and innovative solutions. If you can grab that line, you opt for a whole new story.
This is how it goes. First comes assumptions for your end goal, or any problem. Then break them down into fundamentals. The last step is to create the new solutions from scratch, by doing permutation and combination. Or think out of the box for innovative solutions.
You can practice first principle thinking in your day-to-day life. If you are in a college, use this thinking method to solve your problem. Make a habit of doing it. It will help you in your professional growth and your personal growth.
If you are in your 20s, this is a life-changing skill you can acquire. An extra edge over millions of people. When I heard about it on a Sandeep Maheshwari and the Beer Biceps podcast, I thought I should give it a try. It works. Less stress and better time management, are two things I have achieved in the last 3 months.
It works and works like magic.