Unlocking your Creative Potential with First Principles Thinking

Unlocking your Creative Potential with First Principles Thinking

Unlocking your Creative Potential with First Principles Thinking panel at the Chief of Staff Summit.

Note: please see the following summary of the core ideas from this conversation at the Summit. We did our best to clarify the ideas for you. Please refer to the video for specific details, ideas, and context.

Moderated by Sophie Kaye Chief of Staff at Frame.io

Panelists include:

- Conor Sweeney Senior Director, Head of People Programs at Volta Charging & and former Chief of Staff at Box

- Oscar Carbonell Dolz Chief of Staff and Senior Director of Strategy & Corporate Development at Typeform

- Gillian O'Brien Chief of Staff at Dover

How to approach problem solving:

Gillian:  I always find that I just want to kind of be alone with the problem first. I don't want to get anyone else's input. I don't want to do any research. I just want to give myself the time to process the problem.  Then, I start mapping out my thoughts. I use Notion a lot. So I just start kind of writing things down: my questions, my assumptions, my ideas. As I start to build kind of an image of what's going on, I feel like I can start layering in other pieces of context. 

Conor:  Get comfortable asking what you feel is the most basic fundamental questions. Ask yourself: “What are solving for?  Why is this a problem or solving?” Nail the fundamentals. 

Oscar: Ask myself what can I do to reduce the metaphorical fog that is in front of me. Because if you cannot see it, I cannot know if it's a problem. Sometimes you think that this is the problem, but in reality, the problem is somewhere else, or the problem is much bigger than the one that you are inspecting. 

What does first principles thinking mean to you:

Gillian: the idea that you should not accept the answers that appear obvious or accept answers because or solutions because everyone's done it before, or it's worked for other companies.

Oscar: Sometimes we need to challenge the understanding of an idea. 

Gillian: When previously building her own company, she learned not everyone does know what they're talking about all the time... Even the people that you would think know the most, it is actually okay to have objections and to challenge things and to challenge even yourself.

How to learn to ask better questions:

Conor: spend the last five minutes of any meeting just asking people redundant questions. Has found the responses that I get from those questions is incredibly necessary.  

Other insights:

Oscar: Over time when people see that you are consistent, impactful, and valuable, people will ask for your help and reward you.

Gillian: you can use first principles thinking or reasoning with interpersonal issues. You can apply the same kind of approach of asking questions and getting to the root of situations or challenging people's assumptions about cultural or interpersonal issues. 

Conor: Box implemented Manager Power Hours led by the Chief People Officer to discuss ideas on manager enablement and leadership development across the company. The program was well-regarded and impactful. 

Gillian: the importance of separate emotion and facts. 

Oscar: the importance of prioritization because if not, people may be overwhelmed and think some things don’t matter as much simply because they don’t have the time to do them. By asking “why?” often, you begin to go to the root cause that really is driving your actions. 

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