We normally think by analogy — by comparing experiences and ideas to what we already know— but Musk says there’s a better way to innovate. From an interview with Kevin Rose:

“I think it’s important to reason from first principles rather than by analogy. The normal way we conduct our lives is we reason by analogy. [With analogy] we are doing this because it’s like something else that was done, or it is like what other people are doing. [With first principles] you boil things down to the most fundamental truths…and then reason up from there.”

The benefit of “first principles” thinking? It allows you to innovate in clear leaps, rather than building small improvements onto something that already exists. Musk gives an example of the first automobile. While everyone else was trying to improve horse-drawn carriages, someone looked at the fundamentals of transportation and the combustion engine in order to create a car.

Naturally Musk does give one warning about using first principles for innovating however, “it takes a lot more mental energy.” Watch the entire interview below:

  • http://www.outsidesmokers.com/ Denaj

    Thank you!

    • http://www.creativesomething.net/ tannerc

      Thanks for reading Denaj.

  • Jared Krauss

    Yeah, that was a great interview. I like Elon Musk even more now because I can see the shy engineer who stood in the Netscape lobby holding his resume with sweaty palms (I’m guessing), which, even though I’m not an engineer (but if I had to use the word engineer to describe myself: Social Structure Engineer—I like the sound of that), I can relate to.

    The idea of thinking and innovating from frist principles resonates with me, and has given me another frame from which to write the next draft of an essay about political atavism.

    • http://www.creativesomething.net/ tannerc

      Thanks for the comment Jared. I like the idea of focusing on first principles for any type of endeavor, whether it’s writing or manufacturing. Good luck on your draft!

  • Paul Rea

    I like that Elon was thinking on his feet when responding to the
    question asked. I always feel like people of his caliber have a lot of
    answers at the ready or have a larger body of knowledge that lets them
    answer without flaw. This showed that he was thinking through the
    question and coming up with a response the same as most people would.

  • http://www.onepowerfulword.com Ash Srivastava

    Thanks! This is inspiring

    • http://www.creativesomething.net/ tannerc

      Glad you thought so Ash, thanks.

    • Nur Fitri

      anugrahbatamshop.blogspot.com

  • Karl

    Loved this, so inspirational and I really love the go of Elon!

    • http://www.creativesomething.net/ tannerc

      Thanks Karl.

      • Nur Fitri

        anugrahbatamshop.blogspot.com/

  • http://www.givegoodpodcast.com/ Katie McCarthy

    What an amazing thing to say, “I started to think about the things that would most affect the future of humanity… making life multi-planetary. Now I didn’t expect to be involved in all of those areas, but I have had the pleasure to be involved in all of those areas.” I would love to see a school system that was based on Elon Musk’s thought processes.

    • http://www.creativesomething.net/ tannerc

      Not sure how a full-blown school system would work out, but I love the idea of having classrooms that focus on this approach to thinking. Thanks for reading and commenting Katie.

    • Nur Fitri
  • AlexH

    Really, really awesome video! I have spent all my 20 years thinking about the what is the fundamental root of concepts and social constructs and to finally hear it described in physics terms makes me really excited and intrigued. This video really means a lot to me in figuring out what I will do with my life and what to look in to.

    Thanks!!

  • AlexH

    Really, really awesome video! I have spent all my 20 years thinking about what the fundamental root of concepts and social constructs is and to finally hear it described in physics terms makes me really excited and intrigued. This video really means a lot to me in figuring out what I will do with my life and what to look in to. (edited)

    Thanks!!

  • asad

    Test

  • Pavol Hollosy

    Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication – Global Catalog Inc.

    • Cem Yilmaz

      That’s actually Leonardo Da Vinci’s quote, one of my favorites.

      • Nur Fitri

        anugrahbatamshop.blogspot.com

  • http://blog.kpbpo.com/effective-ways-to-conduct-meetings-learn-from-masters/ Effective ways to conduct meetings…Learn from Masters | KP

    […] Musk, decisions should not be based on prior experiences. He encourages thinking based on “first principles” — boiling a situation down to its basic, fundamental truths and then reasoning up from […]

  • http://www.game-changer.net/2014/06/26/first-principles-thinking-a-better-way-to-innovate/ First principles thinking: a better way to innovate | Game-Changer

    […] How Elon Musk Thinks: The First Principles Method (99u.com) […]

  • http://expertgeneralists.com/on-engineering-business-and-design/ Expert Generalists | On Engineering, Business, and Design

    […] about your product. Don’t Reason by Analogy: Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX and Tesla, urges everyone to reason using the First Principle. From Kevin Rose’s interview with Elon, he […]

  • mperkel

    I personally applied the concept of “First Principle” to religion. If you ask the question, “If there were a one true religion, what would it look like?” The answer is, the religion that believe in what was real, Church of Reality?

    But for this to make sense you have to forget everything you know about religion and start from scratch. It has to be purely science based. You have to ask the question, “How does Darwin want us to live our lives?” And when you start reasoning from that first principle perspective the results are amazing.

    • Israelien

      Actually, Darwin’s theory was disproved many times over by top scientist in many relevant fields.. You can look it up.. also Darwin himself wrote a chapter called ”Difficulties on Theory” in his book “The origin of species” where he points out a few things that if proven in the future will essentially dismantle his theory.. So if you want a religion purely ‘science based’, you’d probably want to know that a huge number of scientist (many of them atheist), had come to a conclusion after years of research that the elements of life in this world cannot be in any way random, and life has been created with cause, by design and intelligence. in other words, God:)

      • http://www.churchofreality.org mperkel

        Evolution is a fact and it’s as solid a principle as the existence of time. Time moves forward and that which survives – survives – that which doesn’t survive – doesn’t survive. If you don’t believe in evolution the you don’t need to get flu shots every year to protect you from the evolving flu virus.

      • Israelien

        It’s funny to have this conversation under this article but what the heck.. first, Evolution is a theory, not a fact, which fails to explain the origins of life, even if somehow we all derived from a single cell organism.. where did that cell come from? during Darwin’s time he didn’t have the tech to examine a living cell and appreciate the complexity.. Obviously I can’t use this comment to write a book neither am I qualified in the least to write one but a pretty good starting point is in this article.. http://creation.com/mutations-new-information

      • http://www.churchofreality.org mperkel

        It’s unfortunate that the word “theory” has more than one meaning. Look up “scientific theory”. The only ones who don’t believe in evolution are those who are having a hard time reconciling the Bible stories with Reality.

      • Nur Fitri

        anugrahbatamshop.blogspot.com/

  • http://www.T6tULfHVQ.com Homepage

    … [Trackback]

    […] Informations on that Topic: 99u.com/workbook/20482/how-elon-musk-thinks-the-first-principles-method […]

  • http://maker4ever.com/blog/wordpress/2014/10/ch4/ Ch4: The ideology of competition | Maker Log

    […] 但是在2000年的2月,Musk和我更担心的是即将破裂的互联网泡沫,而非彼此:金融危机将会在我们决出胜负前同时干掉我俩。所以在3月份的时候,我们决定找家咖啡馆坐下来谈谈,50-50的对等合并。合并并不容易,但比起来情况变得更加糟糕,合并是个不错的方案。作为一个联合的团队,我们可以携手度过互联网危机并去获得成功。(译注:关于Paypal这段故事还是蛮精彩,只是我们不能听作者在这一个人讲,因为按照他的口吻,貌似他的作用更大,但如果你看了Musk怎么说,你就会有了新的看法。总之,非常精彩。两个人的关系也很微妙,简单说说,2000年合并之后,Musk做CEO,但他比较独断专行,引起了Thiel和Levchin的反感,后来有天Musk放假去了,回来的时候发现被董事会扫地出门了,类似的桥段是不是在乔布斯身上发生过,呵呵。后来贝宝卖给了eBay,即便是这个时候,最大的股东还是Musk(Musk是反对卖掉的,他的物理学思维告诉他,这个玩意儿还可以做的更大)。再后来Musk去做了电动车和火箭,Thiel去成立了对冲基金和投资基金(早期的时候投资了facebook),俩人还是时不时会吃个饭,Musk投资了Thiel的基金,Thiel也投资了SpaceX。Anyway,俩人都是shocking smart and fucking great。) […]

  • http://universityoffrank.com/the-secret-to-preparing-for-a-meeting-with-elon-musk/ The Secret To Preparing For A Meeting With Elon Musk » University Of Frank University Of Frank

    […] Put another way, Musk demands that his employees use a way of reasoning that he picked up in his studies of physics: first principles thinking.  […]

  • http://mukeshbalani.wordpress.com/2014/12/29/the-secret-to-preparing-for-a-meeting-with-elon-musk/ The Secret To Preparing For A Meeting With Elon Musk | [ mukeshbalani.com ]

    […] Put another way, Musk demands that his employees use a way of reasoning that he picked up in his studies of physics: first principles thinking.  […]

  • http://www.todaytopnews.com/the-secret-to-preparing-for-a-meeting-with-elon-musk/ The Secret To Preparing For A Meeting With Elon Musk | Today's Top News

    […] Put another way, Musk demands that his employees use a way of reasoning that he picked up in his studies of physics: first principles thinking.  […]

  • http://all.theglobalpoint.com/2014/12/the-secret-to-preparing-for-a-meeting-with-elon-musk/ The Secret To Preparing For A Meeting With Elon Musk | The Global Point

    […] Put another way, Musk demands that his employees use a way of reasoning that he picked up in his studies of physics: first principles thinking.  […]

  • http://www.lionmade.com/ign/2014/12/29/the-secret-to-preparing-for-a-meeting-with-elon-musk/ The Secret To Preparing For A Meeting With Elon Musk | Digital Wealth

    […] Put another way, Musk demands that his employees use a way of reasoning that he picked up in his studies of physics: first principles thinking.  […]

  • http://textrelate.com/?p=84736 The Secret To Preparing For A Meeting With Elon Musk | TextRelate

    […] Put another way, Musk demands that his employees use a way of reasoning that he picked up in his studies of physics: first principles thinking.  […]

  • http://ncwtv.com/nn/the-secret-to-preparing-for-a-meeting-with-elon-musk-22032/ The Secret To Preparing For A Meeting With Elon Musk

    […] Put another way, Musk demands that his employees use a way of reasoning that he picked up in his studies of physics: first principles thinking. […]

  • http://www.rennywijayanti.wordpress.com Renny Wijayanti

    Inspiring interview about 1st principles thinking, thank you!

  • http://www.businessinsider.com.au/how-to-prepare-for-a-meeting-with-elon-musk-2014-12 The Secret To Preparing For A Meeting With Elon Musk | Business Insider

    […] Put another way, Musk demands that his employees use a way of reasoning that he picked up in his studies of physics: first principles thinking.  […]

blog comments powered by Disqus