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32 Examples of First Principles

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A first principle is a rule, guideline, fact, principle, law or theory that has broad explanatory power such that it can be applied to a large number of situations. These aren't necessarily factual and can be assumptions or approaches that are adopted by a society, organization or team. The following ideas are commonly used as first principles.

Arrow of Time

Time moves from past to present and is irreversible

Art for Art’s Sake

Art doesn’t answer to requirements or constraints.

Attractiveness Principle

Nothing is attractive to everyone.

Ban the Average

Design for everyone not the mythical average person.

Business as Usual

Continue normally as much as possible in the face of disruption.


Everything happens in a chain of cause and effect.

Complexity Hiding

Wrap complexity in things that hide it.

Do No Harm

Try to minimize your negative impact.


Systems move to a state where opposing forces are in balance.

Fit for Purpose

Value is maximized where things suit their purpose without going too far.

Form follows Function

Functionality drives design and not the other way around.

Genius Loci

The idea that things should reflect the spirit of a place.


Things continue with their speed and direction unless disrupted by an outside force.


Things generally move towards greater complexity and disorder.

Interchangeable Parts

Design things with identical components that can be easily replaced.

Keep it Simple

All else being equal, simple beats complex.

Less is More

The mantra of minimalism and the idea that all things be reduced to their most austere and plain form.

Less is a Bore

The principle that complexity is valuable and interesting.

Essential Complexity

The principle that things be exactly as complex as they need to be.

Embrace the Mess

The real world is complex such that it is only pragmatic to work with complexity.

Economies of Scale

High volume typically allows for efficiency and lower unit cost.

Path of Least Resistance

People will usually go for comfort, convenience and the easy way to do things.

Principle of Least Effort

Make things easier and easier for the customer.

Principle of Least Astonishment

Don’t challenge convention unless you have something that is much more valuable.

Structure Follows Strategy

Design your organization and systems to support your strategy and not the other way around.

There’s More Than One Way To Do It

There’s no perfect solution or decision just many good ones.

Think Global, Act Local

Consider the broader impact of your actions.

Worse is Better

Avoid perfectionism.

Opportunity Cost

The cost of one choice is foregoing your next best choice.

Fail Forward

Seek value in failure.

Fail Well

Design experiments that fail quickly, cheaply and safely if they do fail.

Appreciative Inquiry

Look for things that are working well and scale them.
First principles can be facts or well accepted theories. Alternatively, they can be principles that you adopt to align to your style, values or approach. For example, an architect who embraces minimalism may use form follows function as a first principle to guide design where this represents their method as opposed to a universal truth.
Next: Entropy
Many of the first principles above are explained in greater detail here:
Arrow Of Time
Art For Art's Sake
Keep It Small
KISS Principle
Ban The Average
Least Astonishment
Big Picture
Business As Usual
Worse Is Better
Complexity Hiding
Do No Harm
Fit For Purpose
Form Follows Function
Form Follows Nature
Genius Loci
Interchangeable Parts
Keep It Simple Stupid
Less Is A Bore
Less Is More
More Is Different
Path Of Least Resistance
Preserving Ambiguity
Think Global, Act Local
More ...
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