First principles

If you get stuck with a problem, it’s good to go back to the foundations of the problem itself to see if you are approaching it the best possible way.

One example. If you want to grow your business, one common way to go about it is to get some funding and hire more people. Of course, hiring more people brings more business in, and for this to be sustained, you need even more people. And even more funding.

On the other hand, one could go to the foundations of the problem, its first principles, and try to understand the type of growth the company needs (not all of the new business that comes in, for example, will be profitable or valuable), or if it needs growth at all, or if growth could be achieved in a healthier way by re-structuring the company, or improving the service, or re-designing the processes.

Another example is reducing car usage. Local governments, for very good reasons, tend to think at the problem mainly in terms of disincentive. Taxes on cars, increase cost of parking, lanes reserved to public transport only, additional fees to access certain areas of the city

On the other hand, the foundation of the problem is that people need to move from one place to another multiple times a day. What are the alternatives we provide to meet this need? Could we make them cheaper (or free) instead of continuosly raising their costs? Could we make them more easily accessible? And the same could go for addressing the fact that to many people a car is a status symbol.

When you go back to first principles thinking, you unlock a whole new spectrum of possibilities you had not considered at first simply because you were thinking by analogy.

Through most of our life, we get through life by reasoning by analogy, which essentially means copying what other people do with slight variations. And you have to do that. Otherwise, mentally, you wouldn’t be able to get through the day. But when you want to do something new, you have to apply the physics approach.

Elon Musk

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