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Think Like Elon Musk with First Principles Thinking

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Think Like Elon Musk with First Principles Thinking

The Basics One of the most effective methods for dissecting tricky issues and developing novel answers is to think or reason from first principles. In addition, it is a great method for mastering the skill of thinking clearly.

The likes of military strategist John Boyd, inventor Johannes Gutenberg, and ancient philosopher Aristotle were all users of the “reason from first thinking” approach. However, Elon Musk has done more to show how useful First Principles Thinking can be in current times than anybody else. Elon Musk, at the ripe old age of 46, changed three industries with his multibillion dollar companies: transportation (Tesla Motors), finance (PayPal), and travel (SpaceX). His remarkable work ethic and knack for finding innovative solutions to difficult challenges have been crucial to his success.

Success and mastery require more than just a strong work ethic, though. The key to achievement is not how much effort you devote to a task, but rather your mindset. Keep reading to find out how you may use First Principles Thinking to simplify challenges, boost your output, and accomplish your loftiest ambitions.


  1. What Is First Principles Thinking?
  2. Example Of First Principles Thinking: Elon Musk and SpaceX
  3. The Power of First Principles Thinking
  4. How To Master First Principles Thinking
  5. Conclusion

The concept of “first principles” is defined.

An assumption’s logical conclusion is known as a first principle. In other words, no further deductions can be made. Aristotle, who lived over two millennia ago, established the First Rule as the foundation of one’s knowledge. Researchers have long held this line of reasoning. Studies have shown that researchers strive to ensure their work is completely free of prejudice.

These are some of the things people wonder:

  • What evidence is there?
  • What can we say with certainty?

Basic Ideas To think is to probe deeply for the underlying realities of a subject. This kind of reasoning became popular by the French philosopher René Descartes, who, using the Cartesian Doubt, carefully questioned everything he believed to be true until he was left with absolute truths that could not be disputed.

Basic Ideas To think is to probe deeply for the underlying realities of a subject. This kind of reasoning became popular by the French philosopher René Descartes, who, using the Cartesian Doubt, carefully questioned everything he believed to be true until he was left with absolute truths that could not be disputed.

You don’t have to delve into the molecular level of every issue in today’s environment. You need just delve a tier or two below where most people would normally be. You’ll get different answers at each tier. John Boyd, a well-known military strategist, devised an exercise that will teach you to think from first principles and apply them in real life. Take into account the following:

  • Tank, military
  • It’s a bike These things can be removed like this:
  • Tank: a fighting vehicle with steel armor, metal tracks, and a cannon
  • What makes a bicycle? The wheels, the seat, the gears, and the handlebars.
  • You can put them together to make an entire thing new and impressive. The “first-thinking” approach in action. You have the ability to dismantle problems and rebuild them stronger than before. It’s a process of dismantling and rebuilding for enhanced quality.

Example of First Principles Thinking: Elon Musk and SpaceX

The most intriguing aspect of Elon Musk is not his ideas but rather his thought process. An old quote of his is as follows:

“In my humble view, people’s minds are too restricted by precedent and habit…” In physics, this means working “from the First Principles” to construct your argument. You start with the basics, build the argument, and test it to see whether it holds water; this may or may not be different from how things have been done before.

He relies in using cold, hard facts rather than gut feelings to make sense of the world. Even if we like to think otherwise, the truth is that we don’t know nearly as much as we imagine. Decisions fare better when we employ a methodical approach, according to the literature. Therefore, we shouldn’t count on our gut feelings when trying to solve difficult problems.

Musk’s cognitive process is extremely unique in comparison to the norm. First, he zeroes in on the end goal: in this case, constructing a rocket. He then moves on to analyses the problem from bottom up.

The cost of a rocket is high. This was one of the obstacles he faced in his quest to settle Mars. Not being able to afford one, he wondered, “What are rockets made of?” The answer was carbon-fiber, copper, aerospace-grade metal alloys, and titanium, and he discovered all of these materials.

Afterwards, he pondered, “What are the values of these materials on the market?” The total cost of a rocket using these components was determined to be 2% of the total.

What factors into the cost of sending a rocket to Mars, then? Musk, a lifelong learner, just began studying rocket science. Due to a lack of first-principles reasoning, he discovered that purchasing a rocket was too expensive. He then founded SpaceX to test his ability to design and construct rockets from scratch.

In a recent interview with Kevin Rose, he summed up his method as follows:

“I believe it is crucial to reason from first principles rather than by analogy… As a physics perspective, “first basic” involves asking, “Okay, what are we sure is true?” and working backwards from there. and then make logical progress from there.

The Value of Starting from Scratch Thinking

The majority of individuals rely on conventional wisdom to make sense of the world and tackle difficult problems. The use of parallels and intuition is typical of conventional thinking. While it would be ideal to be well-versed in all areas in order to swiftly and effectively address issues, the reality is that this is far from the case. Therefore, it can be more challenging to grasp and handle difficulties when we rely solely on our senses. You should also remember that analogies are not a substitute for comprehension. You are good at drawing analogies, but you can easily come up with superior solutions if you switch to First Principles Thinking.

Problem-Solving that Breaks the Habit

You can break free from received wisdom and uncover untapped potential by using “First Principles” reasoning. Everything will make more sense once you grasp the fundamental concepts at play here.

Fundamental Concepts You can benefit from using your mind when:

  • Attempting to Untangle a Tangled Problem
  • Making an initial attempt at anything
  • Making an effort to learn about a difficult topic

By not forming assumptions or letting other people frame and solve problems for you, your thinking will improve in these three areas.

The common perception is that creative skill is innate and one either possesses it or does not. Numerous empirical investigations have debunked this notion.

Everyone has the capacity to create. However, at the beginning, we may be outpaced by parents and teachers who have a lot on their plates. It’s easier to think conventionally as an adult than it is to think from basic principles. Everything is conceivable once you begin thinking from the start

Useful First Principle in Daily Contexts The ability to think critically has applications

beyond the realm of science fiction and sophisticated scientific formulae. It’s useful for dealing with regular issues in life.

Two instances are as follows:

I figure I’ll need a lot of capital to expand my company.

Primary Reasoning:

  • What do you need to expand your company? You’ll need to increase your sales in order to stay afloat.
  • Do you need to spend a lot of money to attract new customers for your business? In a word, no. But you’ll need low-cost ways to get in touch with these customers.
  • Who can put you in touch with these customers? Is there any way to negotiate a settlement that benefits everyone involved? You may team up with companies already catering to this demographic and divide the money made in the process.

Premise: If I want to be a successful writer, I need to put in a lot of hard work.

Primary Reasoning:

  • How do you make a living as a writer and produce high-quality content? In order to make a living as a writer, you’ll need a sizable number of readers who value your work and are prepared to pay for your pieces.
  • How do you attract a bigger crowd? You should research successful advertising strategies. You will be more successful if your attention is directed towards how purchasing your works can enhance the lives of your target demographic.

How to Get a Firm Grip on the Basics Taking a Back-to-Basics

Approach The ability to think critically will open up new perspectives and lead to creative solutions to challenges that no one else can see. Elon Musk suggests you take these 3 easy actions:

1.Determine Preconceived Ideas

In various spheres of existence, we all make assumptions. Assumptions that are often made include:

If I want to increase my output, I’ll have to buy some pricey machinery. I can’t take on difficult tasks at the moment…

The next time you have to solve a difficult problem, make a list of all the presumptions you have. This activity will pique your interest.

  1. Deconstruct the Issue

The truths of something can be broken down into their most basic components, or “fundamental principles,” as we discussed before. Asking oneself penetrating questions is the key to unlocking these realities. In a talk with Kevin Rose, Elon Musk provided the following fantastic illustration:

Someone can say, “Battery packs are really expensive and that’s just the way they will always be.” Historically, the price per kilowatt-hour has been around $600. The future won’t be any better than that.

By starting from scratch, I ask, “What are the actual battery components?” How much do the raw materials fetch on Wall Street? Cobalt, nickel, zinc, carbon, separating polymers, and a hermetic container are all included.

Dissect that into its constituent parts and tell me how much it would cost to buy on the metal exchange in London. Costs roughly $80 per KWH.

Conclusion? Batteries can be made for a fraction of their current market price by creatively combining the aforementioned elements into the form of a battery cell. You can be successful even if you don’t think in the typical ways. The key is to adopt something new.

3.Make Original Changes

Hypotheses must be evaluated and reduced to first principles before innovative solutions get developed. Take a look at this illustration for some direction.

The presumption here is that I don’t have enough time to meet my fitness objectives.

Thinking from first principles:

  • What do you require to reach your health objectives? You need to put in five hours of exercise per week (that’s one hour per day).
  • Can I still get there if I work out less frequently? Yes! Three times a week, you can devote fifteen minutes to physical activity. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a successful and effective means to get in shape.


There will be many challenges in your path to success. When confronted with a difficult problem, your mind will inevitably come up with assumptions.

By dissecting these presumptions, you can get to the bottom of things and figure out how to solve seemingly intractable situations. The time and effort spent on First Principles Thinking will be well rewarded. First-Principles reasoning is simple to implement in real life.

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