Good leadership goes beyond experience and education. Decision making should not be influenced by what other major players in the industry are doing.
For some, this is easier said than done. But that’s not the case for influential business leaders Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. These entrepreneurs apply the ancient “first principles” approach to all decision making. Read on to learn what this approach entails, and how leaders can leverage it to better connect with their teams.
First Principles – History
The “first principle” was conceptualised by Aristotle over 2,300 years ago. He described the principle as the “first basis from which a thing is known”. In other words, a first principle is a basic assumption that cannot be deduced from any other assumptions. Sounds a bit abstract, right? So let’s look at a couple of modern business examples.
For Elon Musk, the first principle approach involves “boiling things down to their fundamental truths and reasoning up from there”.
As humans, we most often reason with an analogy. When we reason with an analogy, we do things in a way that it has already been done before. In other words, if I want to launch something into space, I go shopping for rockets already on the market. However, first principles invite us to examine and eliminate the biases that lead us to think in this way.
Thus, Musk applied first principles when estimating how much the SpaceX rockets would cost. Rather than looking for the available products on the market, his team instead determined the necessary parts of a rocket and the cost of the raw materials. As a result, they built a rocket for about 2% of the typical price. In doing so, along with other applications of this principle, they have revolutionised the economics of travel to outer space.
Jeff Bezos focused on fundamental truths when he built Amazon.
Bezos explained in his book, Bold:
“In our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection.
It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, ‘Jeff, I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher.’ ‘I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.’ Impossible.
When you have something that you know is true over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.”
By focusing on these first principles, Bezos safeguards the continued success of Amazon.
Implications for Leaders & Teams
When leaders adopt a first principles approach this can have groundbreaking results on their team.
To approach first principles, leaders can start by asking more questions. Instead of making decisions based on the existing status quo, question these traditional thought processes and instead boil your issue down to its fundamental truth.
When it comes to building a collaborative team, many leaders opt for traditional approaches to personal development. These may include retreats presented by external companies. Of course, these can be highly beneficial.
But, when connecting with your team, try to ignore what other businesses in your field are doing. Adopt a first principles approach instead.
This might see leaders go directly to the source and ask employees for their ideas and input. Alternatively, maintaining clear, honest and frequent communication may be what’s needed to strengthen your connection with your team. Whether you’re an established leader or a new leader, you’ll likely find open communication will set you apart from leaders with more experience or education.
Approaching first principles can be daunting. It can take much greater mental energy than traditional thought processes. However, it can lead to groundbreaking results. At Ronin Marketing, we believe in working from the ground up. This means tailoring the marketing strategy to meet the unique needs of each client. We determine the right services and approach that will ensure the continued success of your business. For more information, contact us today.