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Elon Musks' "3-Step" First Principles Thinking: How to Think and Solve Difficult Problems Like a...

https://medium.com/the-mission/elon-musks-3-step-first-principles-thinking-how-to-think-and-solve-difficult-problems-like-a-ba1e73a9f6c0

medium.com

Elon Musks' "3-Step" First Principles Thinking: How to Think and Solve Difficult Problems Like a...
By the age of 46 years old, Elon Musk has innovated and built three revolutionary multibillion dollar companies in completely different fields - Paypal (Financial Services), Tesla Motors (Automotive) and SpaceX (Aerospace). This list doesn't even include Solar City (Energy), which he helped build and acquired for $2.6 Billion recently.

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Elon Musk

"Well, I do think there’s a good framework for thinking. It is physics. You know, the sort of first principles reasoning

(...) What I mean by that is, boil things down to their fundamental truths and reason up from there, as opposed to reasoning by analogy.

Through most of our life, we get through life by reasoning by analogy, which essentially means copying what other people do with slight variations."

Elon Musk

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First principle vs. analog thinking

  • First principles thinking: actively questioning every assumption you think you know about a given problem or scenario  and then creating new knowledge and solutions from scratch. 
  • Reasoning by analogy: building knowledge and solving problems based on prior assumptions, beliefs and widely held ‘best practices’ approved by majority of people.

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Elon Musk's 3 steps Principle Thinking

Elon Musk's 3 steps Principle Thinking
  1. Identify and define your current assumptions;
  2. Breakdown the problem into its fundamental principles;
  3. Create new solutions from scratch.

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Elon Musk

"It is important to view knowledge as sort of semantic tree

Make sure you understand the fundamental principles, ie the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.

Elon Musk

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Elon Musk

"I tend to approach things from a physics framework. And physics teaches you to reason from first principles ra..."

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The Two Types of Thinking

Comparison thinking: comes up with solutions based on pre-existing ideas. It is the way we normally think but it also limits the solutions to possible permutations of what already exists.

First principles thinking: starts free of preconceptions by studying the fundamentals of something and then working your way to a new thing. This helps you understand complex problems.

First Principle Thinking In Practice

The CEO might re-envision the way his company tackles development, by bringing in other departments that don't normally get to participate in this work, and creating incentives for original thinkin...

4 Steps For First Principle Thinking

  1. Identify the problem you want to solve.
  2. List all the reasons you can't solve this problem.
  3. List all obvious solutions that apply but don't solve the problem adequately.
  4. Ask yourself: "If I could create a solution based on my desires, what would that solution be?"

Achieving Groundbreaking Innovation through First Principle Thinking

It may seem that practicing First Principle Thinking requires more mental energy and intellectual rigor, but it simply requires a different type of thinking and intellectual rigor. 

By definition, true innovation only occurs if we start with the First Principle. To make the leap from the impossible to the possible, we can't just iterate on what already exists.

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First Principle

First Principle

Is a basic, foundational, self-evident proposition or assumption that cannot be deduced from any other proposition or assumption.

Elon Musk

Elon Musk

"… it's important to reason from first principles rather than by analogy. The normal way we conduct our lives is we reason by analogy. We are doing this because it's like something else that was done, or it is like what other people are doing. But with first principles, you boil things down to the most fundamental truths and then reason up from there."