I have known Mridul, grade 9 student in Indore for more than 2 years now. The most unusual story here is that I was introduced to him (as a writing mentor) by his father, but his father did not know me so well himself when he made the intro! We just happened to be from the same school, same class but different sections and were in the same WhatsApp group !

To cut the long story short, we met up in person for the first time last month in Indore and during the chat, I told Mridul about the concept of ‘First Principles’. Decided to share here.

The  dictionary meaning of First Principle is that it is a foundational proposition or assumption that stands alone. We cannot deduce first principles from any other proposition or assumption. The first principles approach has been used by many great thinkers including inventor Johannes Gutenberg, military strategist John Boyd, and the ancient philosopher Aristotle.

However, my interpretation of the first principles to Mridul was a lot more simpler one. to him, I told him:

” You are a brilliant child. There is a lot you going to face ahead in life. There will be moments when decisions will already be made for you. And then there will be moments when you will need to make critical decisions. In these moments, what will define your destiny is not the decision you take, but the first principles that you apply when making those decisions. As long as you have certain ‘first principles’ in life, and make sure that they form the basis of every major judgement, then your life will be good. “

The first principles I was hinting at could be on following lines:

  • Principle of  integrity, honesty and ethics. It’s about taking the honest route, every single time, however hard or arduous it might be – no compromises.
  • Principle to stay true to your roots– you are a Jain, Indian and your that identity comes with certain expectations from you, so you need to stay true to themselves.
  • Principle to work hard and do the due diligence in decision making – between easy and tough tasks, always choose the tough ones, because that will test out your abilities. And if you fail, then the easier one is always there to go back to. 
  • Principle of leadership. Look at how you would do a task, even if there is a leader above you who is making the decision, make your own judgement and see, if the information that you have access to, if the leader’s decision is correct. If not, then maybe the leader has more information (which you should have the courage to ask for) or the leader is wrong (which again you should have the courage to point out). 
  • Principle  of teamwork – man is a social animal and while we can do everything alone, we cannot live alone all the time. We need to be part of teams. And when it comes to being in teams, there are always gives and gets. You need to be first ready to give, in order to get.
  • Principle of quality – you will look for the best quality in everything, like food, clothes, etc. Rather not have something than to have something of poor quality.

So I DID not carve out these principles in so clear terms in the discussion. I vaguely hinted at them and all three of us debated on the same.  

Like we discussed on the last point and how it would pan out in a real life scenario. You go to buy a shirt, and need to choose between  a low quality one for 400 and high quality one for 1000. The high quality one will last longer and will look nice, as long as u wear it. No such guarantee for the low quality one. Which one u would pick? Mridul  said Rs. 400  one. Both his dad and me corrected him on the choice and explained how the Rs 1000 shirt will be a better choice:

  1. Expensive – but long lasting
  2. High quality- makes a mark, leaves and impression, which is hard to value in rupees.
  3. Reduces frequency of buying, hence saves time.
  4. Inflation proof, as you have avoided the vagaries of price movement in shirt for next 2-3 years.

Being a smart kid, he could get the interpretation once we explained it this way.

As discussion I ended, I felt a discussion like this is so critical for kids to build their decision making skills, yet so rarely do kids get such opportunities.

When I was planning to write the post, I came across this gem of a letter from the legendary JRD Tata, which will make my above principles look ordinary and redundant. But I still felt the need to share: 

“Dear Mr Bhansali,

I thank you for your letter of the 6th August, enquiring what have been the guiding principles which have kindled my path and my career. I do not consider myself to be an “illustrious personality”, but only an ordinary businessman and citizen who has tried to make the best of his opportunities to advance the cause of India’s industrial and economic development. Any such guiding principles I might unconsciously have had in my life can be summarized as follows:

That nothing worthwhile is ever achieved without deep thought and hard work;

That one must think for oneself and never accept at their face value slogans and catch phrases to which, unfortunately, our people are too easily susceptible;

That one must forever strive for excellence, or even perfection, in any task however small, and never be satisfied with the second best;

That no success or achievement in material terms is worthwhile, unless it serves the needs or interests of the country and its people, and is achieved by fair and honest means;

“That no success or achievement in material terms is worthwhile, unless it serves the needs or interests of the country and its people, and is achieved by fair and honest means”

That good human relations not only bring great personal rewards but are essential to the success of any enterprise.

Yours sincerely,

JRD Tata”

I hope the idea of first principles can be the guiding force for their future.