When we try to learn a new concept, we’re often overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information on a topic.
As an example, take one of my fields, digital literacy. There is a large amount of research on the topic. It also is a challenge to stay informed as the one constant is change.
In my talks, I try to simplify things by indicating a need to focus on a small number of key elements or principles. The thinking is that if you understand these fundamental or first principles, everything else will make sense.
First principles thinking
First principles thinking is the act of boiling a process down to the fundamental parts that you know are true and building up from there.
Great thinkers throughout time have employed first principles thinking to challenge big problems and systematically innovate.
A description of this thinking and problem-solving pattern is described below by Elon Musk.
In an interview with Kevin Rose, Musk indicated the following: “I think it’s important to reason from first principles rather than by analogy.” He continued, “The normal way we conduct our lives is we reason by analogy.” “[With 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.”
Learning, developing, and planning from a set of first principles is an effective strategy that you can employ to break down complicated problems and generate original solutions.