Of analogies and principles…

eBay is a shark in the ocean

We are a crocodile in the Yangtze River.

If we fight in the ocean, we will lose.

But if we fight in the river, we will win.

Jack Ma

There are two processes of designing in engineering.

The first is based on iterations to an already existing template – something that is present and works, but the design improves( or at least tries to) upon it. This is iterative, given that you are deriving a solution from something that exists, possibly for decades and even centuries.

Design by iteration makes incremental changes, but the fundamental issues exist. The foundation is the same – it’s just the building that is different.

To truly make a difference, one should embrace design by first principles.

“I think it’s important to reason from first principles rather than by analogy. The normal way we conduct our lives is we reason by analogy. [With analogy] we are doing this because it’s like something else that was done, or it is like what other people are doing. [With first principles] you boil things down to the most fundamental truths…and then reason up from there.

Elon Musk

SpaceX is a classic example of design by first principles. Starting from scratch, Elon made a company that has become a leader in a field with extremely high barriers-to-entry, and dominated by government-backed behemoths, which is no mean feat.

The iPhone is another such example – going back to the basics and building a product that revolutionized the way we interact with our phones.

Am reading this book that speaks about designing the future of banking by going back to first principles, and I relate a lot to it as a consultant and as a customer.

Banks have gone digital, but by analogy. This is why we still sign unfilled forms for submission (with the relationship manager completing the rest), we have unending paperwork to provide for simple loans and in general, the experience is more about migrating existing processes to the internet, rather than completely changing the fundamentals.

Anyways, that is more on the fintech, or TECHFIN, since the tech drives the changes in financial services.

Also got me thinking about how we approach our own careers, exercise and spiritual goals. Always by analogy – just creating a superstructure on an existing, and often faulty base. Why not approach it differently, and design by first principles?

A quick primer on what it takes.

One – remove any preconceived notions on what works for you and what doesn’t. Instead, evaluate your self by weighing in your age, your current health, time and commitment involved, and long-term goals.

Two – go back to the drawing board by experimenting with what may work – by radically changing some elements that you have considered a given. For instance, if you have always exercised in the evening, try mornings for a change. If you feel that you have worked better in isolation, try collaborating on a project.

Three – evaluate the findings, and in a non-biased manner, work out what really made a difference. If your earlier routine was better, great. If the new one presents more promise, but involves a radical change in behavior, go for it.

Four – think again, making changes requires commitment and belief, and not necessarily in that order. But once you have made up your mind – get set into the new routine immediately.

Five – evaluate progress regularly, and employ course correction where necessary. This can be done by analogy.

Interesting how life and tech and everything in between is linked. One leads to the other, and methods that work in one domain also have parallels in the other. Food for thought…

See you tomorrow!