First Principles: How to think like Tesla CEO Elon Musk [Video]

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First Principles: How to think like Tesla CEO Elon Musk [Video]
We've reported on what it's like to work for Elon Musk. We've even curated some key Elon Musk quotes for a glimpse into the Tesla DNA. But, perhaps the real million dollar question is: how do you think like 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 rather than by analogy. So I said, OK, let’s look at the first principles. Wha...

Elon Musk


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 exist...



Elon Musk

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

Elon Musk

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.

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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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."

First-principles thinking

Breaking down complicated problems into basic elements and then reassemble them from the ground up.

It’s one of the best ways to learn to think for yourself, unlock your creative poten...

A first principle a foundational proposition or assumption that stands alone. We cannot deduce first principles from any other proposition or assumption.

Reasoning by first principles removes the impurity of assumptions and conventions. What remains is the essentials. 

Cutting through the dogma

If we never learn to take something apart, test the assumptions, and reconstruct it, we end up trapped in what other people tell us.

We remain trapped in the way things have always been done. When the environment changes, we just continue as if things were the same.

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