First Principles Problem Solving

Find training resources related to this problem solving technique.

Popularized by the likes of Elon Musk and Steve Jobs, the First Principles way of thinking was first developed and utilized by the philosopher Aristotle. This way of thinking can be used for understanding complicated problems and developing innovative solutions to challenges in organizations and in life. In this latest blog post on Innovation Training, we’ll explore what this problem solving technique is and resources you can utilize to learn more about it.

What is First Principles?

The First Principles theory is based on the concept of a “first principle”, or a foundational assumption that stands alone. Aristotle described these as “the first basis from which a thing is known.” Applying it to problem solving, this reasoning technique removes assumptions and conventions. In other words, you start with just the basic elements and build from the ground up.

Instead of relying on previous reasoning or assumed truths, you take the basic elements and explore and reason from there to come to better problem solving solutions. This way of thinking is valuable in innovation because instead of reusing existing ideas or methods and approaching problems by doing what others are done, we are really starting from a basic understanding and reasoning alternative and effective approaches from there.

First Principles Books and Other Resources to Explore

Example of First Principles in Action: Elon Musk

This Wired article features Elon Musk discussing SpaceX and how he used First Principles problem solving to develop his private space race.

First Principles Thinking: Building winning products using first principles thinking

This book aims to help you learn and implement first principles thinking when working on your own innovative products and solutions. Find a step-by-step method for adopting this technique in your own work.

Tips from Engineering Manager

This article from the Engineering Manager features several tips on how to use this way of thinking and can be applied to an innovation or design thinking specific project or problem.

First Principles Thinking Workbook: Framework for solving real-life problems using First Principles Thinking technique

There aren’t too many books on first principles problem solving. This workbook provides basic templates and tools so that you can find the root cause of a problem and find the best possible solution using First Principles thinking. According to reviews, it appears that the workbook is is “basically the same brief two-pager questionnaire printed out over the whole length of the book.”


First Principles is a useful “reverse engineering” way of approaching a problem or challenge that can help you overcome assumptions and bias and reach more innovative and effective problem solving solutions. It looks like there is a need for more articles and resources on this problem solving approach. Please share if you find some good ones.
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