Are our thoughts truly original? Are we actually thinking independently? Do we see problems differently than others or are our problem-solving abilities iterations on a common theme?
If you use “First Principles” thinking you would be cogitating with crystal clarity – and in a way that isn’t influenced by anything or anyone. Think of the possibilities: your thoughts unrestrained by established norms or assumptions. You could look at the world in a new way and make things possible that are not remotely thought possible.
First Principles is hardly a new concept. If “thinking outside the box” is creative thinking, thinking using First Principles is like thinking with no box. So what kind of thinking is that? A highly focused one, with no shortcuts, more mental energy, and mother of all big thinkers: the resolve to reason based solely on self-evident principles.
It’s all about boiling things down to their most fundamental truths and then using reasoning to go up from there. That’s how businessman and inventor Elon Musk describes First Principles thinking. The premise isn’t assumed. He calls it a “physics way of looking at the world. For Musk, original thinking has to start with a fundamental truth… “Then it makes deductions from there.”
For example, Musk asserted that battery-powered transportation can go the long haul, far exceeding what experts say is possible. He then deduced that it’s possible for a vehicle to travel 500 miles carrying up to 80,000 pounds on one electrical charge. He decided to build it. Mind you, he’s talking about a charging system 10 times more powerful than even his own currently operational Superchargers used in battery-operated passenger cars. Musk’s Tesla Semi-truck is scheduled to be ready by the end of 2019. Naysayers are crying “Impossible!”
Most of us reason based on analogy, not First Principles. We’re not thinking for ourselves; we’re leveraging what someone else has done or said and assuming that’s enough … probably because the world has already accepted the basic premise. It’s a status quo track of reasoning, like an analogy. It has vision, but not total vision. Typically we think a certain way, create materials and systems a certain way mostly because it fits the mold.
A whole field of science developed early in modern man’s civilization. It was based on the theory that the world is flat. Because it became widely accepted – for whatever reason – it was adopted as scientific fact. If Aristotle hadn’t come along with First Principles thinking, providing the evidence that the earth was spherical, we might still think we would drive off the edge of the planet into the sea or the heavens or into whatever our scientists theorized.
Had the Wright Brothers not used First Principles vision, not realized that flight had to be achieved not at ground level but in the air, inside an aircraft – using never-before-developed aerospace engineering technology – they would never have succeeded in their historic airplane flight.
Using First Principles isn’t for sissies. Original thinking challenges established ideas or ways of doing things. The objections are often loud. But remember, those objections are not based on solid reasoning. They’re mostly judgmental. Be prepared for these responses:
Truly believe in your idea. If the passion isn’t there, you won’t have the energy or desire to pursue it to its conclusion.
Make success a possible outcome. Don’t follow the familiar route of doubt. Never give up. Don’t let repeated failure deter you. Get rid of those mental blocks. And don’t hang around with negative people.
Don’t assume it can’t be done because the technology doesn’t exist. History is littered with examples of inventors who didn’t accept that as an excuse not to try. These are the people who refuse to impose their own constraints on themselves. Don’t be self-limiting. Don’t be your own enemy.
Use clear thinking. You’ll need to prep for First Principles thinking. Be critical. Establish and verify facts. Eliminate your assumptions, biases, hopes, fears, and fallacies. “B” has to follow from “A.” Reason logically and intuitively. Eliminate distractions. Clear your mind of unwanted thoughts. Be alert. Find ways to stimulate your brainwaves. Meditate, breathe, use brain entrainment sound techniques.
Learn to do things that you don’t know how to do. You don’t necessarily need to be a trained expert in a particular field. Many First Principle thinkers are not. The inventor of the bagless vacuum cleaner firmly believes that if you choose a very narrow field you know nothing about, you can become very knowledgeable in a short time.
In John Lennon’s song All You Need Is Love he writes, “There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.” First Principles thinking is saying something similar: “There’s nothing you can THINK that can’t be done.”
First Principles is about possibilities … making something possible that either wasn’t previously thought possible or wasn’t thought about at all. You’re pushing envelopes and making the non-existent exist – as if by magic.