First principles thinking is taking what is fundamentally true and building up from there.
When we start from first principles, we eliminate pre-existing beliefs. We avoid biases by questioning assumptions. Rather than deriving conclusions from assumptions, first principles thinking starts from scratch and builds up new conclusions based on what is true. It’s a powerful way of thinking but it is also extraordinarily unintuitive to do.
In a world where we are bombarded with information, it’s easy to outsource our thoughts to others. First principles thinking requires us to deeply think for ourselves about the issues at hand. Building from the bottom up, first principles thinking can solve any problem.
The reason many don’t understand concepts is because they’re afraid to ask questions. They’re afraid to come off as ignorant. We challenge what is considered standard.
I want you to try things that no one has ever tried because they’re absolutely stupid.Orson Scott Card
Primitives are our building blocks. To create an accurate framework of the world from first principles, we need to define our primitives.
Primitives are the fundamental assumptions of things we know to be true. An example of a horizontal primitive is that people are driven by incentives, whether they be economic, social, or moral. The laws of physics are another. Government laws and existing infrastructure can also be primitives.
A primitive when running a political race could be that you need to get more legally counted votes than your opponent to win. But depending on the race, you may need the majority of votes, not just a plurality. Working from first principles, you’d think of what incentivizes someone to vote and what levers you can pull to get them to vote for you. When problem solving, always start with the primitives before experimenting with frameworks on top.
As long as the correct primitives are identified, horizontal frameworks can be configured and applied to each area. This is what our brains do when we learn a new discipline.
I’m currently upgrading my pickleball skills. There are similar frameworks as tennis but most are slightly modified, e.g., similar to tennis, you want to be on the same plane/height as the ball during your swing, but you don’t want to do micro-steps like in tennis as there’s less time to get to the ball and less time to react to the next shot.
The most common reason people are wrong is that they have the wrong primitives. The second most common is applying the wrong frameworks. We weren’t trained to think in primitives or frameworks. Our culture often treats our primitives and frameworks as religious idols to not be touched.
At Ender, we discuss and debate our primitives and frameworks. Your perceived primitives aren’t you. Your frameworks aren’t you. They’re ideas that are meant to be challenged. The end goal is to get the best solution for the problem at hand.
If you cannot explain something in simple terms, you don’t understand it.Richard Feynman
We’re building a product to save our clients time and resources. Our contribution is the purpose of our company. Every product and service is value add. We get to keep a small part of the value we create.
There are hundreds of workflows we break down. Breaking down problems to their fundamental issues helps us make better decisions. We challenge every assumption. This leads us to building better products and services.
We utilize first principles thinking to build simple, elegant solutions.