First Principles Thinking eats Tips, Tricks, and Tactics for breakfast

June 22, 2023 | Mirta Fagundes dos Santos

Tips Tricks and Tactics for making Balkan Sushi. With prosciutto instead of seaweed and grilled mince instead of salmon

Tips, tricks, and tactics – the seductive trio that has become the go-to solution for many busy professionals looking to boost their productivity or solve a problem in hand.

They’re the microwave meals of problem-solving: quick, easy, and satisfying in the moment. But, as any foodie will tell you, nothing beats a meal cooked from scratch using fundamental, fresh ingredients.

This just happens to be the essence of First Principles Thinking.

Cooking from scratch

When you decide to cook a meal, you can choose the quick route – a ready-made meal that you just need to serve up. It’s fast, it’s simple, and it does the job. This is like using tips, tricks, and tactics. They’re straightforward, prepackaged solutions to common problems, designed for efficiency and speed.

First principles thinking, on the other hand, is like cooking your meal from scratch. You choose individual ingredients, understand their flavors, and combine them in a way that creates a dish. You’re not following a ready-made meal’s instructions; instead, you’re understanding the principles of cooking and creating something uniquely yours.

Tasting the difference

A while back my husband and I hosted a dinner.

On the menu… Balkan Sushi. (actual image above)

Ummmm, “what’s Balkan Sushi?”, you may ask…

Think prosciutto instead of seaweed, ćevapi (grilled minced meat traditionally in the countries of southeast Europe) instead of salmon, and cream cheese instead of avocado…

Our guests were flabbergasted. Here are just some of the comments we got:

“Sooo amazing! Creative, fun, tasty.” – Eric, CEO/Founder of a talent agency

It was delicious!! Yummy!! – Nikki, Senior Manager, quality systems

“Yuck, I don’t like it, this sushi sucks” – Mario, our 10-year-old son

Why First Principles win

The instant gratification of a microwave meal or a clever hack can be enticing, but it often lacks depth and adaptability. These solutions are designed for a specific set of circumstances, and when those change, they don’t hold up.

When we try to solve a problem, or innovate, based on already-established ideas (as opposed to reasoning from first principles) we can only ever get incremental improvements on what has already been established, rather than, what’s possible – which is infinite!

And if I’ve lost you with the food analogy, SpaceX reusable launch system is another brilliant example. Imagine traditional space companies as those relying on the ‘tips, tricks, and tactics’ approach. These companies have always built rockets in one particular way: the rockets are launched, they deliver their payload into space, and then they’re discarded into the ocean, never to be used again. The whole process is costly and inefficient, but that’s just the way it’s always been done.

SpaceX could have “improved” on the single-use-rocket concept, but no, instead they broke down the problem into its basic principles, analyzing the factors that made rockets single-use entities, and began building a solution from the ground up – enabling them to destroy the ‘status-quo’ and create a reusable rocket.

But enough of this rocket talk and back to my food analogy!

Next time you’re looking to enhance your productivity or solve a problem, think about what you want from your ‘meal’. A quick, one-time fix, or the skills to whip up endless solutions tailored to your taste?

With that in mind, if you’d like to get my recipe for Balkan Sushi, email me at [email protected]… And if you’d like to learn how to think from First Principles try the first module of our critical thinking course here for FREE, or enroll into a full Thinking Foundations course!