- First Principles Thinking- From principles to innovation
- How the First Principles Model works
- There are multiple methods how to get to the first principles
- Second-Order Thinking - Think about the consequences!
- Example: Unforeseen Snakes: Never forget Second-Order Thinking!
- How to do Second-Order Thinking?
- First-order negative, but second-order positive
- Out-Thinking the Norm through Second-Order Thinking
- The Feynman Technique - Enhance your Learning!
- How to apply the Feynman Technique?
- Don’t be fooled by overcomplicating
- How effective is the Feynman Technique?
- Mastering the art of learning - Further tips
- The Dickens Process - What Are Your Beliefs Costing You?
- Quiz: Test your knowledge! True or false?
- Sources (alphabetically ordered)
First Principles Thinking- From principles to innovation
What do the following persons have in common?
One powerful mental model is that of "first principles," which dates back to the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, but was also used by a lot of other famous thinker like Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs or Elon Musk. Despite his vast contributions to fields such as ethics, logic, and epistemology, Aristotle believed that every new thought should start with first principles. (Juma, A. (2018, June 20)).
How the First Principles Model works
The idea is to break down complicated problems into basic elements and then reassemble them from the ground up. (Farnam Street. (2021)).
A first principle is a basic idea or belief that is accepted as true without needing any proof or explanation. It is the starting point for reasoning or understanding something, and it is not based on any other idea or assumption. Essentially, a first principle is a fundamental truth that is accepted as a given. (Thinknetic. (2022)).
There are multiple methods how to get to the first principles
Do you remember when consistently asking why as a child? One method is asking insistently „why“ like you did as a kid. Children have a natural inclination to think in first principles. They have a desire to comprehend the happenings in the world. To do so, they intuitively break through the fog with a game some parents have come to hate. (Farnam Street. (2021)).
Establish first principles by conducting careful analysis. Socratic questioning is a method of asking extremely difficult questions in order to get right to the core of a situation. Finding the truth, exposing hidden concepts, and separating what we know from what we don't know are like detective work. Socratic questioning differs from regular conversation in that it makes a careful and methodical effort to elicit the most crucial and fundamental concepts.(Farnam Street. (2021)).
The process looks as follows:
- Clarifying your thinking and explaining the origins of your ideas (Why do I think this? What exactly do I think?)
- Challenging assumptions (How do I know this is true? What if I thought the opposite?) Looking for evidence (How can I back this up? What are the sources?)
- Considering alternative perspectives (What might others think? How do I know I am correct?)
- Examining consequences and implications (What if I am wrong? What are the consequences if I am?)
- Questioning the original questions (Why did I think that? Was I correct? What conclusions can I draw from the reasoning process?)
(Farnam Street. (2021)).
Another method was used by Elon Musk. Watch in the following video how he applied the first principles thinking to his work.
Second-Order Thinking - Think about the consequences!
Let us not confuse first principles thinking with second-order thinking. While first principles thinking traces backwards, second-order thinking traces forward along the cause-effect chain of events. (Thinknetic. (2022)).
Second-order thinking is the best way to examine the long-term consequences of our decisions. When we don’t do second-order thinking, we do first-order thinking. First-order thinking is fast and easy. For example you think: “I’m hungry so I will eat a chocolate bar.” (Farnam Street. (2022)).
Second-order thinking is more deliberate. Second order thinkers ask themselves the question: “And then what?” This means thinking about the consequences of eating a chocolate bar and using that to inform your decision. If you do this, you are more likely to eat something healthy. (Farnam Street. (2022)).
Example: Unforeseen Snakes: Never forget Second-Order Thinking!
Watch the following video, to understand why second-order thinking is so important!
How to do Second-Order Thinking?
1. Always ask yourself “And then what?”
2. Think through time — What do the consequences look like in 10 minutes? 10 months? 10 Years?
3. Create templates with 1st, 2nd, and 3rd order consequences. Identify your decision and think it through by writing down all consequences. If you review these regularly you’ll be able to help calibrate your thinking.
(Farnam Street (2022)).
First-order negative, but second-order positive
In life, many remarkable outcomes arise from situations that may initially appear negative on a first-order level but yield positive results when considering second-order effects. Just because something lacks an immediate payoff does not mean it lacks potential. In fact, such circumstances often provide an advantage by reducing competition from those who only think in first-order terms. Engaging in second-order thinking requires substantial effort, as it entails considering systems, interactions, and the passage of time. However, embracing this approach is a wise strategy for setting oneself apart from the majority (Farnam Street. (2022)).
Assume you have to choose between watching TV and learning a new skill during your free time. In the short term, watching TV may seem more relaxing and enjoyable while learning a new skill may seem challenging and frustrating. First-order thinkers would choose the TV session. But, watching TV has no long-term advantages. (Farnam Street. (2022)).
If you think second-order and consider the long-term effects, you might realize that learning a new skill can open up new career opportunities and promote personal development. Consider the potential advantages in the future as you engage in second-order thinking. So, while it may be easier to choose the first-order option of watching TV, taking the time to consider the second-order consequences can lead to more significant and positive outcomes in the long run. (Farnam Street. (2022)).
Out-Thinking the Norm through Second-Order Thinking
”Extraordinary performance comes from seeing things that other people can’t see.” — Farnam Street (2022)
In a world where most people rely on first-level thinking, it becomes crucial to go beyond conventional wisdom and embrace second-order thinking. While first-level thinking often leads to predictable and common conclusions, second-order thinking requires a deeper level of analysis and consideration. It involves understanding the underlying systems, anticipating interactions, and contemplating the long-term consequences of our decisions. By engaging in second-order thinking, we can uncover hidden insights, identify unconventional opportunities, and make more informed choices. This higher level of thinking allows us to stand out from the crowd, navigate complexity with clarity, and achieve extraordinary outcomes that others might overlook. (Farnam Street (2022)).
The Feynman Technique - Enhance your Learning!
“The Feynman Technique is a method of learning that unleashes your potential and forces you to develop a deep understanding.” — Farnam Street. (2021)
You can learn more effectively by teaching others using the Feynman Technique. Using this technique, you will make complex concepts understandable to others by breaking them down into simple explanations. It puts your knowledge to the test and fills in any gaps. It's a fantastic way to learn and retain information. (Farnam Street. (2021)).
How to apply the Feynman Technique?
Step 1: Choose what you want to learn. When you have a topic, grab a blank sheet of paper. Write down everything you already know about it. As you learn more, add new information to your paper. Using different colors can help you see your progress. Once you feel like you understand the topic, you can move on to the next step. (Farnam Street. (2021)).
Step 2: Explain it to a child. Once you feel like you know a lot about a topic, try explaining it to a younger child. Use words that are easy for them to understand. If you have trouble explaining something, it shows where you still need to learn more. By finding those gaps in your knowledge, you can fill them in and become even smarter. (Farnam Street. (2021)).
Step 3: Reflect, Refine and Simplify. After you write down your ideas, go back and check if you accidentally used any complicated words or skipped over important things. Read your explanation out loud as if you're talking to a child. If it's not easy to understand or sounds confusing, it means you should think about it more and make it simpler. Go back to the original information and review the parts that you still don't fully understand. Keep doing this process until you have a clear and simple explanation. (Farnam Street. (2021)).
Step 4: Organize & Review To see how well you understand the topic, try explaining it to someone else in the real world. Pay attention to how effective your explanation is. Did the other person understand it well? What questions did they ask? What parts did they find confusing? This feedback will help you improve your understanding. Once you feel confident and happy with your understanding, keep the page where you wrote your simple explanation and store it in a binder for future reference. (Farnam Street. (2021)).
Don’t be fooled by overcomplicating
Knowing and applying the Feynman Technique can help you avoid being deceived by others. When someone explains something to you using difficult or confusing words, you can ask them to explain it in a simpler way. If they get frustrated or struggle to do so, it suggests that they might not have a complete understanding of the topic themselves. If they truly understood it, they would be able to explain it more clearly and easily. So, by using this technique, you can see through unclear explanations and identify when someone might not have a strong grasp of what they're talking about. (Farnam Street. (2021)).
How effective is the Feynman Technique?
If you want to learn more about, how effective the Feynman Technique is, read about the following study.
This study looked at a method called the Feynman Technique that helps students learn and understand complex information. They tested this method on students from different grade levels in schools. The students who used the Feynman Technique had higher scores and learned more compared to those who didn't use it. So, this study shows that the Feynman Technique can be a helpful tool for students to learn better, especially in online learning. (Reyes et al. (2021)).
Research Design and Methods:
Participants: The participants were Grades 4, 7, and 11 from a local public elementary school and a national high school. The participants included 34 students from Grade 4 (19 females and 15 males) aged 8-11, 37 students from Grade 7 (26 females and 12 males) aged 12-13, and a group of Grade 11 students (all females) aged 16-17. (Reyes et al. (2021)).
Control groups: Learners were randomly assigned to the experimental or control group. The experimental group used the Feynman Technique to study topics of the English lessons, while the control group experienced standard school lessons. But both groups had the same teacher, at the same time and the same venue through breakout sessions. (Reyes et al. (2021)).
Research tool: The research tool used was a thirty-five-item multiple-choice test questionnaire. (Reyes et al. (2021)).
Process: The three-week study was broken down into three phases: (a) Pretesting, (b) Intervention, (c) Posttesting. First, both groups did a pretest about the topics to learn (English Proficiency), that showed both groups were found to be equivalent in terms of intellectual level. In the second phase, the control group got the conventional teaching method while the experimental group was taught using the Feynman Technique. In the third phase both groups took a posttest similar to the pretest. (Reyes et al. (2021)).
Results: The study used a two-sample t-test to compare the posttest and learning gain scores of an experimental group and a control group. This helped determine if the two groups showed different levels of improvement. The results confirmed that the Feynman Technique was effective. (Reyes et al. (2021)). The students in the experimental group, who were exposed to the Feynman Technique, performed better than those in the control group in terms of their posttest and learning gain scores. This suggests that the students who had a deep understanding of the concepts and demonstrated high-level autonomy and self-regulation were able to learn their lessons more effectively and efficiently, especially with the new learning methods being used. (Reyes et al. (2021)).
Want to read the whole study? Have a look at this document.
Mastering the art of learning - Further tips
You want to improve your learning even more? Try these tips from the book „100 Truths You Will Learn Too Late” by Luca Dellana from 2019.
Seek connections: Learning is about making connections between what we already know. People only learn from what they understand. Actively seek and make connections to enhance your learning journey. (Dellanna, L. (2019)).
Practice your practice: Metapractice is about making your practice better. After each session, think about how you can improve. “How could the practice have been better?”. Be honest, use your wisdom, and have the discipline to get better at what you enjoy. (Dellanna, L. (2019)).
Get feedback as frequently as possible: Feedback is important for learning. To learn more, get feedback as often as you can by breaking your work into smaller parts. This applies to different areas like learning, investing, and selling. If you're an entrepreneur, focus on improving how quickly you get money back to reinvest and make more returns. (Dellanna, L. (2019)).
Set the right priorities: People tend to succeed at the things they prioritize, even if they are dishonest about them. If someone is failing at something, it's likely not a priority for them, regardless of what they claim their priorities are. Our actual achievements reveal our true priorities more accurately than our stated desires. (Dellanna, L. (2019)).
Write plans: Writing plans is crucial because it allows you to recognize when they are not working. By documenting your plan, you can easily identify if you're not taking the scheduled actions or if the results are not as expected. This helps you understand when something is wrong with your plan and enables you to make necessary adjustments for better outcomes. (Dellanna, L. (2019)).
The Dickens Process - What Are Your Beliefs Costing You?
Even when people are experiencing severe coughing due to lung cancer, they continue to smoke by using justifications like, "I smoked for years without any issues" or "Look at George Burns who lived until 102 while smoking cigars." They find exceptions to the rule and create beliefs about the future that comfort them. They also rely on past experiences when things were fine. This enables them to avoid confronting the reality of their situation. (Ferris, T. (2017)). Are you also taking irrational decisions? Then try the dickens process.
The Dickens Process, prevents individuals from evading any aspect of their past, present, or future, forcing them to confront each time zone and make necessary changes instead of seeking refuge in uncertainty, instability, and fear of change. (Ferris, T. (2017)). The “Dickens Process” is related to A Christmas Carol, written by Charles Dickens. In ”A Christmas Carol”, Scrooge is visited by the Ghostsof Christmas Past, Present, and Future. In the Dickens Process, you’re forced to examine limiting beliefs - your top two or three handicapping beliefs - across each tense. (Ferris, T. (2017)).
Tim Ferris describes this method created by Anthony Robbins in his book. He recalls answering and visualizing variations of:
- What has each belief cost you in the past, and what has it cost people you’ve loved in the past? What have you lost because of this belief? See it, hear it, feel it.
- What is each costing you and people you care about in the present? See it, hear it, feel it.
- What will each cost you and people you care about 1, 3, 5, and 10 years from now? See it, hear it, feel it.
Answering these questions will confront people with vivid and painful imagery and most of them can no longer rationalize or accept destructive “rules” in their lives. (Ferris, T. (2017)).
In the following audio snippet, Anthony Robbins is doing the dickens process with you. If you have some time alone and want to try this, take a few minutes to think about your irrational decisions or beliefs and listen to the 9 minutes meditation to take better decisions in the future.
Quiz: Test your knowledge! True or false?
- A first principle is a basic idea or belief that is accepted as true without needing any proof or explanation.
- Consistently asking "why" like a child can be a helpful method to identify first principles and gain a deeper understanding of the world.
- Second-order thinking involves considering the long-term consequences of decisions and asking "And then what?" to explore the potential outcomes beyond the immediate effects.
- Remarkable outcomes in life often arise from situations that may initially appear negative on a first-order level but yield positive results when considering second-order effects.
- You can apply the Feynman Technique in 4 steps. Choose what you want to learn, explain it to a scientist, refelct, refine and simplify and organize and review.
- Knowing and applying the Feynman Technique can help you to deceive others.
- When applying the dickens process, you have to answer three questions about what your beliefs cost you in the past, are costing you in the present and will cost you in the future to examine your limited beliefs.
Sources (alphabetically ordered)
- Dellanna, L. (2019). 100 Truths You Will Learn Too Late.
- Farnam Street. (2021) First Principles: The Building Blocks of True Knowledge. https://fs.blog/first-principles/
- Farnam Street. (2022). Second-Order Thinking: What Smart People Use to Outperform. https://fs.blog/second-order-thinking/
- Farnam Street. (2021). The Feynman Technique: The Best Way to Learn Anything. https://fs.blog/feynman-technique/
- Juma, A. (2018, June 20). Aristotle and the Importance of First Principles - The Startup - Medium. Medium. https://medium.com/swlh/aristotle-and-the-importance-of-first-principles-9431aa60a7d1#:~:text=Essentially%20he%20is%20saying%20that,the%20discovery%20of%20first%20principles
- Reyes, E. P., Blanco, R. M. F., Doroon, D. R., Limana, J. F. T. & Torcende, A. M. (2021). Feynman Technique as a Heutagogical Learning Strategy for Independent and Remote Learning. Recoletos multidisciplinary research journal, 9(2), 1–13. https://doi.org/10.32871/rmrj2109.02.06
- Sahil Bloom. (2021, February 6). Overcomplicate. [Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/SahilBloom/status/1358108855775887361
- Thinknetic. (2022). Mental Models In A Nutshell: Practical Thinking Frameworks To Amplify Your Decision Making And Simplify Your Life.
- Tony Robbins - ROMANIA Fans. (2017, 20. Januar). Tony Robbins explain the Dickens pattern [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8awWbuFQL2Q