First-Principles Thinking Is Easier Said Than Done

I’ve been chatting with founders and investors about a problem I’m working on. I’ve noticed that as I’ve described the high-level problem, some people tend to relate it to something they’ve seen before and suggest existing solutions to fix it. They don’t understand that the world has changed materially in the last few years and this problem is something different than what we’ve encountered before. They also don’t understand the components of the problem.

I’ve been intentional about taking the time to break the problem down to its core and acknowledge that though I have experience, I don’t know what I still don’t know given the changes in the world. I’ve tried to fill these gaps to better understand the problem so I can craft a new solution that best fits it, rather than pick an existing solution and apply it. It hasn’t always been easy, but I think this is the best approach.

My conversations and experience with this problem have reinforced that first-principles thinking is easier said than done, and it’s the exception, not the norm. If I want to devise a solution that creates maximum value and is an outsize success, I can’t come up with the answer before I know what the question is.