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Source: Farnam Street
Published: January 2018

Mental Models: First Principles

Circulated: October 27, 2020

We use first principles thinking to clarify complicated problems by separating the underlying facts from any assumptions based on them. What remains are the essentials, which we use to ask ourselves:

What is the most efficient way to solve a problem if you started from scratch?

Example: Both a chef and a cook can make a meal; however, only the chef relies on first principles.

A chef uses instinct and experience to take raw ingredients and create a meal. She understands the flavor profiles and combinations at such a fundamental level that she doesn’t even use a recipe. On the other hand, a cook relies on a pre-defined recipe; he is out of luck without the recipe.

Bonus: Elon Musk explaining how Tesla uses first principles thinking when inventing batteries.

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