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First Principles First

First Principles First

| On 17, Jun 2018

Darrell Mann

“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”
Harrington Emerson

There’s an aphorism we use a lot. ‘For every complex problem there is an answer that is  simple, clear and wrong’. These days we tend to modify it to, ‘For every complex problem there are thousands of clear, simple, wrong answers.’ Then we add, ‘For every complex problem there is a clear, simple, right one. If we understand and affect the first principles.’ As illustrated in the previous article.

The problem, very often, is working out just what these ‘first principles’ are. We make a start at cataloguing them here in this article.

Everything we come in to contact with is complex. If our job is to make successful step-change happen, the very best way to make sure it happens is to change things at the ‘first principle’ level. Customer constraints don’t always allow us to do this, but it’s incumbent upon us, I think, to always explore and try to affect change at the ‘first principle’ level. That way we don’t spend our time ‘pushing rivers’ – we make the system ‘emerge’ in the way we desire it to emerge.

There are three levels of ‘first principle’ that we ought to have at the front of our minds when thinking about how best to create a successful step change: human, system and technological:


Innovation in our context is a fundamentally deliberate act that starts as a thought in someone’s brain. To all intents and purposes, therefore, ‘first principles’ starts in the brain. And specifically the limbic brain. Our limbic brain does all the ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ intangible stuff before our conscious (neocortex) brain has even started to get its act together.

‘First principles’ as far as our limbic brain is concerned means the ABC-M model we have talked about many times in the ezine. That’s why it’s everywhere in the tools and methods we bring to bear on any job. When Autonomy, Belonging, Competence and Meaning ‘get better’, good things happen.

Beyond that, when we start to think about what happens when we zoom-out and start looking at interactions between different brains, ‘first principles’ relates to the DNA in TrenDNA: Gravesian Thinking Styles and Generational Cycles. Strictly speaking, regarding the latter, the ‘first principle’ from which the 4-archetype model emerges is the transfer of influence from parent to child: the way your parents raised you, will influence how you raise your own children.

As far as Clare Graves’ model is concerned, although he never (as far as I can tell) understood contradictions and s-curves, the ‘first principle’ underpinning the Thinking Style ‘levels’ is: we encounter certain contradictions in life, and if we successfully resolve those contradictions, our model of the world changes, and we ‘add a new’ gear into our mental gearbox. We can still access the other gears, but we can only be in one gear at any moment in time.

Everything else we see happening in society pretty much emerges from the ABC-M driver inside all of our heads, which then gets coupled with the Graves and Generation-Cycle models sitting in everyone else’s heads.


First principles as far as we need to concern ourselves when thinking about ‘systems’ effectively distill down to three things:

  • Minimum system
  • Minimum controllable system
  • S-curves and discontinuous shift from one system to another

Minimum system – TRIZ did some hard work for us. The minimum system required to deliver a function (useful or otherwise – when stuff goes wrong, there was a ‘system’ that made it go wrong) requires a minimum ‘two substances plus a field’:

Minimum controllable system – the hard work this time was a combination of the TRIZ ‘Law of System Completeness’ and Stafford Beer’s ‘cybernetics’. The minimum controllable system must contain these six elements:

The model is also recursive (‘turtles all the way’), meaning that every sub-system within a system also has to contain the requisite six elements.

S-Curves – the reason we’re in the business we’re in is because of the universality of the s-curve. All systems hit limits; when they hit those limits, the only way to improve the system is to change the system. Which means jumping to a new s-curve. The ‘limit’ is a contradiction. The contradiction comes from a ‘vicious cycle’. The shape of the s-curve is driven by the dynamics of a minimum of two cycles: a ‘virtuous cycle’ to drive the upward trajectory, and the ‘vicious’ one that prevents the system from improving forever:


At a technical level, ‘first principles’ essentially means ‘laws of physics’, but even then the word ‘law’ needs to be used with some caution. ‘Laws based on our current assumptions’ is probably more accurate. Few clients like it when you take it upon yourself to challenge ‘the laws of physics’, but I’ve been involved in several projects that have successfully done just that: we challenged the assumptions and found ways in which they were wrong. The ‘laws’ fall into two categories: classical physics that deals with the observable world (classical mechanics), and atomic physics that deals with the interactions between elementary and sub atomic particles (quantum mechanics). Fundamental change at the technological level pretty much comes down to challenging one or more of these ‘truths’:

Ampere’s Law
The line integral of the magnetic flux around a closed curve is proportional to the algebraic sum of electric currents flowing through that closed curve; or, in differential form curl B = J.

Archimedes’ Principle
A body that is submerged in a fluid is buoyed up by a force equal in magnitude to the weight of the fluid that is displaced, and directed upward along a line through the center of gravity of the displaced fluid.

Avogadro’s Hypothesis (1811)
Equal volumes of all gases at the same temperature and pressure contain equal numbers of molecules. It is, in fact, only true for ideal gases.

Bernoulli’s Equation
In an irrotational fluid, the sum of the static pressure, the weight of the fluid per unit mass times the height, and half the density times the velocity squared is constant throughout the fluid.

Boyle’s Law (1662); Mariotte’s law (1676)
The product of the pressure and the volume of an ideal gas at constant temperature is a constant.

Bragg’s Law (1912)
When a beam of X-rays strikes a crystal surface in which the layers of atoms or ions are regularly separated, the maximum intensity of the reflected ray occurs when the complement of the angle of incidence, theta, the wavelength of the X-rays, lambda, and the distance between layers of atoms or ions, d, are related by the equation 2 d sin theta = n lambda,

Causality Principle
The principle that cause must always preceed effect. More formally, if an event A (“the cause”) somehow influences an event B (“the effect”) which occurs later in time, then event B cannot in turn have an influence on event A. That is, event B must occur at a later time t than event A, and further, all frames must agree upon this ordering.

Charles’ Law (1787)
The volume of an ideal gas at constant pressure is proportional to the thermodynamic temperature of that gas.

Complementarity Principle
The principle that a given system cannot exhibit both wave-like behavior and particle-like behavior at the same time. That is, certain experiments will reveal the wave-like nature of a system, and certain experiments will reveal the particle-like nature of a system, but no experiment will reveal both simultaneously.

Conservation Laws

Conservation of mass-energy
The total mass-energy of a closed system remains constant.

Conservation of electric charge
The total electric charge of a closed system remains constant.

Conservation of linear momentum
The total linear momentum of a closed system remains constant.

Conservation of angular momentum
The total angular momentum of a closed system remains constant.

There are several other laws that deal with particle physics, such as conservation of baryon number, of strangeness, etc., which are conserved in some fundamental interactions (such as the electromagnetic interaction) but not others (such as the weak interaction).

Coulomb’s Law
The primary law for electrostatics, analogous to Newton’s law of universal gravitation. It states that the force between two point charges is proportional to the algebraic product of their respective charges as well as proportional to the inverse square of the distance between

Curie-Weiss Law
The susceptibility of a paramagnetic substance is related to its thermodynamic temperature T by the equation KHI = C/T – W, where W is the Weiss constant.

Dalton’s Law of partial pressures
The total pressure of a mixture of ideal gases is equal to the sum of the partial pressures of its components; that is, the sum of the pressures that each component would exert if it were present alone and occupied the same volume as the mixture.

Doppler Effect
Waves emitted by a moving object as received by an observer will be blueshifted (compressed) if approaching, redshifted (elongated) if receding. It occurs both in sound as well as electromagnetic phenomena.

Dulong-Petit Law (1819)
The molar heat capacity is approximately equal to the three times the ideal gas constant.

Einstein Field Equation
The cornerstone of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, relating the gravitational tensor G to the stress-energy tensor T by the simple equation G = 8 pi T.

Einstein’s Mass-Energy Equation
The energy E of a particle is equal to its mass M times the square of the speed of light c, giving rise to the best known physics equation in the Universe:
E = M c2.

Faraday’s Law
The line integral of the electric field around a closed curve is proportional to the instantaneous time rate of change of the magnetic flux through a surface bounded by that closed curve; in differential form curl E = -dB/dt, where here d/dt represents partial differentiation.

Faraday’s Laws of electrolysis

Faraday’s first law of electrolysis
The amount of chemical change during electrolysis is proportional to the charge passed.

Faraday’s second law of electrolysis
The charge Q required to deposit or liberate a mass m is proportional to the charge z of the ion, the mass, and inversely proportional to the relative ionic mass M; mathematically Q = F m z / M,

Faraday’s first law of electromagnetic induction
An electromotive force is induced in a conductor when the magnetic field surrounding it changes.

Faraday’s second law of electromagnetic induction
The magnitude of the electromotive force is proportional to the rate of change of the field.

Faraday’s third law of electromagnetic induction
The sense of the induced electromotive force depends on the direction of the rate of the change of the field.

Gauss’ Law
The electric flux through a closed surface is proportional to the algebraic sum of electric charges contained within that closed surface; in differential form div E = rho, where rho is the charge density.

Gauss’ Law for magnetic fields
The magnetic flux through a closed surface is zero; no magnetic charges exist; in differential formdiv B = 0.

Hall Effect
When charged particles flow through a tube which has both an electric field and a magnetic field (perpendicular to the electric field) present in it, only certain velocities of the charged particles are preferred, and will make it un-deviated through the tube; the rest will be deflected into the sides.

Hooke’s Law
The stress applied to any solid is proportional to the strain it produces within the elastic limit for that solid. The constant of that proportionality is the Young modulus of elasticity for that substance.

Ideal Gas Law
An equation which sums up the ideal gas laws in one simple equation P V = n R T,

Joule’s first law
The heat Q produced when a current I flows through a resistance R for a specified time t is given by Q = I2 R t .

Lambert’s Laws

Lambert’s first law
The illuminance on a surface illuminated by light falling on it perpendicularly from a point source is proportional to the inverse square of the distance between the surface and the source.

Lambert’s second law
If the rays meet the surface at an angle, then the illuminance is proportional to the cosine of the angle with the normal.

Lambert’s third law
The luminous intensity of light decreases exponentially with distance as it travels through an absorbing medium.

Laplace Equation
For steady-state heat conduction in one dimension, the temperature distribution is the solution to Laplace’s equation, which states that the second derivative of temperature with respect to displacement is zero.

Lenz’s Law (1835)
An induced electric current always flows in such a direction that it opposes the change producing it.

Murphy’s Law  (1942)
If anything can go wrong, it will.

Newton’s Laws

Newton’s Law of universal gravitation
Two bodies attract each other with equal and opposite forces; the magnitude of this force is proportional to the product of the two masses and is also proportional to the inverse square of the distance between the centers of mass of the two bodies; F = (G m M/r2) e, where m and M are the masses of the two bodies, r is the distance between. the two, and e is a unit vector directed from the test mass to the second.

Newton’s first law of motion:
A body continues in its state of constant velocity (which may be zero) unless it is acted upon by an external force.

Newton’s second law of motion:
For an unbalanced force acting on a body, the acceleration produced is proportional to the force impressed; the constant of proportionality is the inertial mass of the body.

Newton’s third law of motion:
In a system where no external forces are present, every action force is always opposed by an equal and opposite reaction force.

Ohm’s Law (1827)
The ratio of the potential difference between the ends of a conductor to the current flowing through it is constant; the constant of proportionality is called the resistance, and is different for different materials.

Peter Principle
In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.

Planck Equation
The quantum mechanical equation relating the energy of a photon E to its frequency nu: E = h nu.

Reflection Law, Snell’s Law
For a wavefront intersecting a reflecting surface, the angle of incidence is equal to the angle of reflection, in the same plane defined by the ray of incidence and the normal.

Refraction Law
For a wavefront traveling through a boundary between two media, the first with a refractive index of n1, and the other with one of n2, the angle of incidence theta is related to the angle of refraction phi by n1 sin theta = n2 sin phi.

Stefan-Boltzmann Law
The radiated power P (rate of emission of electromagnetic energy) of a hot body is proportional to the radiating surface area, A, and the fourth power of the thermodynamic temperature, T. The constant of proportionality is the Stefan-Boltzmann constant. Mathematically P = e sigma A T4,.where the efficiency rating e is called the emissivity of the object.

Thermodynamic Laws

First law of thermodynamics
The change in internal energy of a system is the sum of the heat transferred to or from the system and the work done on or by the system.

Second law of thermodynamics
The entropy — a measure of the unavailability of a system’s energy to do useful work — of a closed system tends to increase with time.

Third law of thermodynamics
For changes involving only perfect crystalline solids at absolute zero, the change of the total entropy is zero.

Zeroth law of thermodynamics
If two bodies are each in thermal equilibrium with a third body, then all three bodies are in thermal equilibrium with each other.