First principles thinking is a problem-solving method that involves breaking down complex problems into their fundamental parts and then reconstructing them from scratch.
The common approach is trying to make small incremental improvements on existing solutions, also called analogous thinking. While quick, it is neither as effective nor adaptable as a solution developed from First Principles.
Example: A restaraunt owner might want to reduce the amount of food to increase margin. A first principles thinker would ask why? And notice that the goal is to increase profit. Then come up with ways to see what else they can do to achieve the same result which might even be getting a robot to decrease workforce or importing materials from cheaper countries.
Identify the problem or challenge at hand and the assumptions that are commonly held about it.
Break down the problem into its fundamental components or principles. This might involve questioning assumptions and thinking critically about the problem.
Build solutions based on these fundamental principles.
Test and refine the solutions.
Step 1. Identify the problem or task you are facing
Step 2. Break down the problem or task into smaller parts
Step 3. Gather enough information about each of the parts
Step 4. Think about how the parts fit together.
Step 5. Choose the best solution and try it out.
Identify the problem: I want to lose weight
Break it into smaller parts: Nutrition, exercise and sleep
Gather information about the parts:
Nutrition: How much am I eating? How many calories should I consume to lose weight? What types of food should I eat?”
Exercise: “What types of physical activity do I enjoy? How much physical activity am I getting?
Sleep: “How much sleep am I getting? Am I getting good quality sleep? Are there any changes I can make to improve my sleep?”
Think about how the parts fit together: “How can I create a plan that combines nutrition, exercise, and sleep to help me lose weight?”
Choose the best solution and try it out: “I will start by tracking my food intake, setting a goal to walk for 30 minutes every day, and getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night.”
Identify the problem: “I want to save money on my monthly grocery bill.”
Break it into smaller parts: “What are the things that make up my grocery bill, and how can I reduce the cost of each one?”
Understand each part on its own: “What are the most cost-effective sources of protein, carbohydrates, fruits, and vegetables? Which items are essential and which ones can I do without? What is the best way to buy in bulk or take advantage of sales and discounts?”
Think about how the parts fit together: “How can I create a grocery list and meal plan that meets my nutritional needs and budget? How can I balance buying in bulk and stocking up on sale items with avoiding waste and spoilage?”
Choose the best solution and try it out: “I will plan my meals and grocery list based on the most cost-effective sources of nutrients, buy in bulk when appropriate, and take advantage of sales and discounts on essential items. I will also avoid buying unnecessary items and be mindful of food waste and spoilage.”