This essay is drawn from The Local Economy Revolution Has Arrived: What’s Changed and How You Can Help. This updated and expanded version comes out next week (eek!) You can get an Insider Discount by pre-registering at https://forms.gle/ZFMZwqrxG7XhLad29
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In philosophy, First Principles are the fundamentals, the basic principles of a Thinking/Doing system. I started The Local Economy Revolution Has Arrived with a statement of First Principles for two reasons: one, to help us keep the fundamentals of this sea change in front of us, and two, to help us all make the practical transitions, the re-wiring of our brains to enable us to actually change how we operate in line with what we see going on in the world.
As a result, the First Principles can look pretty simple, sometimes even self-evident. So why write them out? And why make such a big deal out of them?
As I’ve noted elsewhere, I spent five of the years between the first version of the book and now working in areas outside of my professional experience, because I felt like I needed to find some new answers. But perhaps my biggest learning in that experience was the one I totally didn’t expect.
Over and over again, I found myself reacting to new situations using my old skill sets. From selling professional services to how I carried out a conversation, I discovered (usually very uncomfortably, and sometimes after a chewing out) that I had defaulted to The Way I Had Done Things in the local government / nonprofit world, when the situation I was in might expect a very different response.
Sometimes I was accused of doing that even when I thought I was acting according to the new rules.
I’m a reasonably socially well-adjusted human being. This was completely disturbing. Why did I keep doing the complete wrong thing?
It turns out that it has everything to do with how our brains evolve. Thinking takes a lot of energy, and neuropsychologists have been able to identify that the the more we do a given thing, the more our brains reinforce that neural pathway and prune out other potential pathways, so that we don’t have to waste brain energy on deciding which path to use. The wiring for alternatives literally disappears over time.
That’s why we feel so much more confident in our expertise, our decisions, how we do things, as we age. Not only have we gained a lot of experience, and thus gained a strong neural pathways, in doing something the way we have learned, but our brains have physically closed off a lot of the other possibilities.
Psychologists tell us that when we practice a new skill over and over again, part of what we are doing is building new neural pathways. And that our ability to do the new thing will increase in rough proportion to our practice. But when we have built up experience doing it a different way than what we are trying to learn, the brain fights even harder to go back to the old pathway. Creating a new neural pathway in a mature brain takes a whole lot more practice, and a whole lot more intentional effort to do the new thing without slipping into old tricks, than when we were younger and the existing neural pathways were less solidly established.
So if we are trying to move into a new paradigm, if we are trying to fundamentally change the way we do our work in order to fit an evolving world, and quit creating more tension by trying to solve new problems with old tools, then we have to engage that new way of thinking frequently and intentionally.
So the First Principles in The Local EconomyRevolution Has Arrived are there to help us engage with those concepts frequently and intentionally. Some of the later chapters in the book include Food For Thought questions designed to help you begin to work with those Principles in your own context.
So we’re not only creating new ways to think about the places we care about, but we are also creating new neural pathways in our own heads (and eventually, in the heads of others). That’s what the First Principles, and The Local Economy Revolution Has Arrived, are all about.