Musk's Latest 'First Principles' Breakthrough

Musk's Latest 'First Principles' Breakthrough

By reducing problems to their most fundamental elements, SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity founder Elon Musk is able to create revolutionary solutions.
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Elon Musk thinks differently than most people do. Rather than applying logic to issues that is derived from and compounded upon existing reasoning, Musk reduces issues to their essential core, and then develops new intelligence based on the fundamentals of pure reason.

Musk learned this ‘First Principle’ methodology from the field of applied physics. A First Principle is a basic assumption that stands completely on its own and cannot be deduced from any other proposition or assumption. Think of a first principle as a prime number, which has no positive divisors other than 1 and itself.

"The normal way we conduct our lives is we reason by analogy," says Musk. Unlike first principles thinking, analogy leads us to do something because it has been done before or is the prevailing way of doing things (for example, analogy would steer us to continue using fossil fuels and incandescent light bulbs.)

In contrast, when applying first principles thinking, “you boil things down to the most fundamental truths … and then reason up from there," Musk says. By applying the concept of first principles to some of the most complex issues of our time—energy, space travel, and transportation—Musk has developed elegant, intelligent, and scalable solutions that are profoundly altering our economy.

Musk readily admits that reasoning with a first principles approach “takes a lot more mental energy,” but the results are undeniable: first, he reinvented payment transactions with PayPal, then he tackled private space travel with SpaceX, electric vehicles and battery storage with Tesla, and creative solar system installation and financing solutions with SolarCity.