In the first part of this blog we discussed the opportunity that exists to remove elements from your working life and consign it to Room 101. 

It is clear there is an opportunity, both for companies and for their employees. For example, companies have big decisions to make on where and when their staff are working. Barclays have said that by having around 70,000 staff working remotely they showed that it was possible to keep even a complex organisation such as a bank running smoothly, despite not being in the same office. 

Individuals are finding they enjoy working remotely, in a number of cases their work life balance is far better (even though we hear there are plenty of people saying they’ve never worked so hard.  But that’s for another blog!). They are enjoying the added flexibility.

So, we need to think or rather consider the new elements we keep, the old elements we keep and which of both we bin!

This post will not attempt to tell you what to choose rather help you to choose.

There are two steps to get to this. First, forcing you to think about the options, by getting to the real information or problem, second, considering prioritising the most important or in this case the least important; what you will throw away.

First principles thinking, is one of the most effective strategies you can utilise for breaking down challenges and finding solutions.

The first principles approach to decision making has been widely used across the world but there are two great examples that show how the technique can be used across a broad subject range but also that it passes the test of time. The ancient philosopher Aristotle was always looking for ‘the first basis from which a thing is known’. In a modern world the clearest practitioner of first principle thinking is Elon Musk, back in the early 2000s Musk began his quest to send the first rocket to Mars.

This proved not only an incredibly difficult challenge but also on the face of it a hugely expensive challenge. Musk surveyed the market for buying rockets and found it would likely cost him around $70m each.

“I tend to approach things from a physics framework,” Musk said. “Physics teaches you to reason from first principles rather than by analogy. So I said, okay, let’s look at the first principles. What is a rocket made of? Aerospace-grade aluminium alloys, plus some titanium, copper, and carbon fibre. Then I asked, what is the value of those materials on the commodity market? It turned out that the materials cost of a rocket was around two percent of the typical price.”

Rather than buy a very expensive rocket, Muck set up Space X to build a rocket at a fraction of the cost.

Last Saturday evening the latest iteration of that rocket, took the first humans to the International Space Station from American soil since 2011. 

First principles thinking is a fancy way of saying “think like a scientist.” Scientists don’t assume anything. They start with questions like, what are we absolutely sure is true? What has been proven?

In theory, first principles thinking requires you to dig deeper and deeper until you are left with only the foundational truths of a situation.

Another real world example of applying First Principle thinking can be seen by looking at Shopify’s decision that if any meeting requires an online participant, then everyone must be an online participant. If we look at why we have meetings, the objectives should be sharing and collecting information, discussing views amongst colleagues and making decisions. When these meetings are held face to face, two types of personas tend to dominate, the most senior person and those that are naturally outgoing.  What Shopify saw, now that all their meetings are held online was that those that didn’t fit the personas were now coming to the fore with their views in a way they had not before.  This was a business benefit that Shopify did not want to lose. When they have employees back in offices, the quieter individuals dialling in will miss the in-jokes in a room or the subtle looks and glances that occur. The risk here being that they will be more likely to fall into the background as before. The plan now is Shopify will require all in office attendees to find a place they too can dial in individually, levelling the playing field for all participants.

If we apply this back to our own example of working from home, what if we dug deeper and found the first principles.  As we said it’s great to have employees working at home right now, very few companies have seen a productivity hit.  But if we investigate that further, what else has there been for that employee to do when they can’t go anywhere?  But what about when dentists open, recycling centres not to mention cafes or restaurants! 

By digging a little deeper in our thinking, we have got closer to the actual situation rather than basing our decision making on what we may think is the issue.  Once we have done that, we will have a stronger base of knowledge to make a decision. When we look at how a decision is made having a stronger knowledge base becomes even more vital.

Decision making is exactly what it sounds like: the action of making decisions and that is hard! The difficulty with decision making is that we often use to much emotion and lack logic or too much logic and lack emotion!  

When we decide based on too much of one of the other, we are unlikely to get to the right answer.   

Unfortunately nearly all of us make irrational decisions, in addition despite there being a plethora of ‘techniques’ available there isn’t a fail safe way to make a decision. Hence why using first principle thinking giving you as much knowledge as possible allows you to at least make the most informed decision.

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