What Is First Principle Thinking?

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“First Principle thinking” means using the first thoughts that pop into your head when you are asked to solve a problem. It is a very useful tool for getting your brain working on a difficult problem and generating ideas.

If you have a sales problem, ask yourself: What is the most important consideration(s) of my prospect/client? What is the strongest desire(s) of my prospect/client? What is the most urgent need of my prospect/client? What would make my prospect/client most likely to buy?

Or if you have talent retention problem, ask yourself: What would make your talent the happiest? What would give him/her the most value? What is the one thing, if I could concentrate on only one thing, that I could do to improve the situation immediately? What is the one thing that, if done, would create the most value? What is the one thing that would satisfy my prospect/client the most?

In addition to being the most useful tool for getting your brain working on a difficult problem, “first principle thinking” also has another very important advantage: It tends to draw solutions out of you in a very natural and easy way.

When you use “first principle thinking”, it tends to eliminate the mental effort involved in “second-guessing” yourself. You get a headstart to thinking instead of worrying. Here are some examples of questions you can ask yourself to get your brain working and generate ideas using “first principle thinking”: Using “first principle thinking” will dramatically increase your ability to grow ideas.

In any case where your ability to grow ideas is weak, it is the first tool you should learn to enhance that ability. Using “first principle thinking” will also dramatically increase your ability to recognize ideas as ideas. 

It will give your mind a jump start to “get going” on the job of innovating. It will help you see the “idea forest” for the trees. Ideas are everywhere. You don’t have to go looking for them; they are all around you. All you have to do is see them.

One way to practice seeing ideas is to ask yourself questions like these: How could this be improved? What would make it even more valuable? What is the one thing that would satisfy my prospect/client the most? What is the one thing that would create the most value? What is the one thing I could do to increase the chance of success? How could this be done cheaply? How could this be done quickly? How could this be done easily? What is the one thing I can do to make this project less painful? What is the one thing I can do to minimize the need for corrections? What is the one thing I can do to make sure this project will pay off? What is the one thing I can do to ensure the best possible outcome? What would make this project the happiest? What is the one thing I could do to make sure this project was a slam dunk?

One of business leaders that use First Principle Thinking successfully is Elon Musk. His first principle thinking tool is his “engineered ignorance.” He doesn’t ask “What if?” He doesn’t ask “Could it be?” No. He doesn’t even ask “Are there any obstacles in the way?”

Instead he asks “What is the least worst option available?” By doing this he forces himself to think outside the box and come up with solutions that are often better than what he originally had in mind. How many times have you said or done something and then later found out that what you said or did was totally inappropriate? In most cases that happens because your “mental engine” was not running at full capacity. You were operating from a position of “learned helplessness.” This happens to almost everyone at some time or another. You get so overwhelmed by the enormity of the task at hand, or by the complexity of the problem you are working on, or by the magnitude of the changes needed, that you simply give up. “It’s too hard. There’s no hope. I may as well go home and get ready for school.” That’s a recipe for disaster.

Get it? So go try out the First Principle Thinking in your problem space and see what happens! 

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