First principles thinking is one the most innovative strategies that is also known as reasoning from first principles. It has been considered most effective in breaking down and reversing complex issues to build original solutions with creativity. This approach has been leveraged by many business leaders across the world – Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Peter Thiel, and Richard Feynman to name a few.
The main idea behind this approach is to break down difficult issues into basic components and then restore them from the ground up. It helps in going through the foggy reasonings to look for brighter opportunities that otherwise, would not be visible.
This is considered an ideal way of resolving issues, rather than making use of preconceived notions or assumptions about the problems based on earlier encounters. This approach has been used in different domains such as software engineering, computer science, Physics, etc.
What is First Principles Thinking?
The first principle of thinking philosophy looks at all complex problems in a different way. It believes in breaking down the major component into primitive elements, such that they cannot be broken any further, and then build it up again, the way you need it to be. It eliminates all pre-notions and ascertains with a fresh look, for a strong futuristic growth.
It is different from other problem-resolving patterns since it focuses on the significant parts of the problem without getting distracted by inaccurate information. It empowers users to look at the root cause and reach out for solutions in a fast and confident manner.
Around two thousand years ago, Aristotle introduced this philosophy as the ‘first basis from which a thing is known’. The first principle of thinking says that keep digging further on till you are left with nothing but the truth. It emphasizes doubting everything till you find the absolute truth.
An Interesting Video: The First Principles Method Explained by Elon Musk
Key Advantages of First Principles Thinking in Software Development
Applying the first principles thinking approach to software development can garner several benefits, as below:
- Patch up information from different segments to create new ideas
- Create a more holistic view of the client’s requirements
- Question expectations and get more innovative
- Help in planning for enhancement of all little components
- Enhance collaboration and communication
- Clarify issues that the software is trying to solve by finding out key elements
- Make informed development and design decisions by helping in choosing the ideal technologies, frameworks, architecture
- Gap analysis of the problem statement as against the proposed solution
- Increase flexibility and adaptability in approach
- Better decision-making and problem-solving skills
- Increase competence to adapt to continuously changing situations
- Enhance business performance and outcome
How Does First Principles Thinking Apply to Software Development?
The first principles thinking principle applies to different domains in different ways. As we talk about the software development arena, here are the probable action steps that must be taken to implement this philosophy:
- Look for the problem and break it down into basic components
This approach begins with searching for the most significant parts of the problem and then segregating them into further components, in such a way that each part associates itself to the whole. The most basic element forms the first principle. Asking through the ‘why’ principle can help in digging further.
- Ask for the reason with a ‘Why’ and dig deeper
Once you ask for the reason by asking a ‘Why’, check the answer and if possible, ask another ‘Why’ going one step deeper. This way, keep digging deeper till you feel the lowermost component has been achieved.
The ‘why’ is not to blame anyone, it is just a systematic way to delve in-depth and know further. On a general note, users can ask questions till 5 further levels. As you ask questions, be very sure of what you are asking since that makes all the difference. Asking the right questions will lead you to a successful path.
- Find out the accuracy of your statements and be more detailed
Your statements are proof based on which further actions are to be taken. If they are accurate, you are in the right direction. If not, it may mislead you to some other issues. These statements could be about the market, problem, solution, or task force getting involved. Even going into more detail matters. You must develop your understanding of the statement since that helps you get innovative and more creative, to create things uniquely.
- Start building a new solution from the deepest level by paying focus on your business goals
Now that your problem is identified, and information is gathered, it is time to focus on your organizational goal and lead the entire phase to completion. It is important that users don’t get distracted while achieving their goals and don’t bother much about what would happen in the future.
- Eliminate all assumptions
Only if you remove all preconceived notions and assumptions, can you think innovatively. Often, our assumptions reflect our past observations and may not necessarily be true. Even in the software world, you cannot merely move ahead by assuming things. You must shoo away the notions to get in space for more creativity.
- Keep your vision in focus all the while
As you dig deeper into details, you must not let go of the bigger picture, your vision. That is the key target area where you would like your final product to go. Have your vision ingrained with yourself all the while so that you don’t divert along the path, anytime on the way. All the smaller components that you dig along must collectively, contribute to the main component. Only then can be sure of alignment with the business objectives.
Challenges Faces in First Principles Thinking
Such an interesting approach to software development it is but does have its share of challenges to handle. Here are they:
- Tough to accept approach at the start
- Needs investment of more time, patience, and energy
- Difficult to find out the point at which to stop drilling further
This surely does not hint towards any limitations of the first principles approach to software development. It just makes you aware of applying it in the right way, being prepared for some obvious changes in the way of working, and not getting carried away with your preconceived notions.
Best Practices for First Principles Thinking in Software Development
Here are some small yet sweet and useful tips that can prove instrumental in implementing the theory in the world of software development:
- Look into the best interest of the user and understand their needs
- Be accountable for getting all the activities done
- Respect contradictory opinions too, they could be useful
- Offer more focus to people rather than process
- Get more innovative and think out of the box
- Follow regulations and standards but dare to take new steps
- Strike a balance between established processes and software structure
- Have a robust mind but flexible enough to accept newer information
- Ensure a high-quality way of working despite the increase in scope or efforts
- Reason up from the bottommost level
- Don’t hesitate to ask questions, that is the crux of the entire theory
On an Ending Note
The first principles thinking approach is a robust tool for managing complicated issues, especially those occurring in the world of software development. The reason being the software industry creates robust software but if the requirements are not aligned to the business objectives, the entire software goes in the wrong direction.
Hence, it is important to implement this philosophy since it helps organizations delve deeper into the roots of the problems and find the best and most sustainable solutions.
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