I read an article today about entrepreneur/rockstar/innovator Elon Musk and his approach. This is what he had to say about the philosophy that sparked ventures such as SpaceX and Tesla Motors.
“The normal way we conduct our lives is we reason by analogy. We are doing this because it’s like something else that was done, or it is like what other people are doing. [With first principles] you boil things down to the most fundamental truths … and then reason up from there.”
It’s logical really to question everything, but it requires a lot more energy so you need to know when to resort to that kind of critical thinking. What I like about first principle thinking is that it’s about thinking BIG, outside the box and challenging what we already (think) we know today.
First principle thinking is not new of course. This is what greek philosopher Aristotle had to say about it:
In every systematic inquiry (methodos) 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. It is clear, then, that in the science of nature as elsewhere, we should try first to determine questions about the first principles. The naturally proper direction of our road is from things better known and clearer to us, to things that are clearer and better known by nature; for the things known to us are not the same as the things known unconditionally (haplôs). Hence it is necessary for us to progress, following this procedure, from the things that are less clear by nature, but clearer to us, towards things that are clearer and better known by nature. (source: Wikipedia)
Reading the above might easily get your head a little tired, but principal thinking doesn’t really need a detailed explanation. What you should do is move backwards in your thought process and question the things you already take for granted and try to see the problem/situation from another viewpoint. This is the kind of thinking that can really drive innovation, create huge ideas and change the world.
And for the true entrepreneur, innovator, artist, etc…it’s definitely worth the effort. Just ask Mr Musk.