FIRST PRINCIPLES METHOD | INNOVATING EFFICIENCY
ELON MUSK EXPLAINS FIRST PRINCIPLE METHOD
First Principles thinking is the act of boiling a process down to the fundamental parts that you know are true and building up from there.
Elon Musk used first principles thinking to break the situation down to the fundamentals, bypass the high prices of the aerospace industry, and create a more effective solution.
Musk: Well, I do think there’s a good framework for thinking. It is physics. You know, the sort of first principles reasoning. Generally I think there are — 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.
STEP 1: Identify and define your current assumptions
When next you’re faced with a familiar problem or challenge, simply write down your current assumptions about them. (Note: You can stop here and write these down now)
STEP 2: Breakdown the problem into its fundamental principles.
“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
The best way to uncover these truths is to ask powerful questions that uncover these ingenious gems.
Somebody could say, “Battery packs are really expensive and that’s just the way they will always be… Historically, it has cost $600 per kilowatt-hour. It’s not going to be much better than that in the future.”
With first principles, you say, “What are the material constituents of the batteries? What is the stock market value of the material constituents?”
It’s got cobalt, nickel, aluminum, carbon, some polymers for separation and a seal can. Break that down on a material basis and say, “If we bought that on the London Metal Exchange what would each of those things cost?”
It’s like $80 per kilowatt-hour. So clearly you just need to think of clever ways to take those materials and combine them into the shape of a battery cell and you can have batteries that are much, much cheaper than anyone realizes.”
Instead of following the socially accepted beliefs that battery packs were expensive, Musk challenges these beliefs by asking powerful questions that uncover the basic truths or elements i.e. carbon, nickel, aluminum. Then, he creates ingenious innovative solutions literally from scratch.
STEP 3: Create new insightful solutions from scratch
Assumption: “I just can’t find enough time to workout and achieve my weight loss goals.”
First principles thinking:
What do you really need to reach your weight loss goal? I need to exercise more, preferably 5 days a week for an hour each time. Could you still lose weight exercising less frequently, if so how? Possibly, I could try 15 minute workouts, 3 days a week. These could be quick high intensity full body workouts that will speed up my fat loss in less time.