trick question: What do Elon Musk and Alexander the Great have in common?
Answer: They probably apply/have applied the same critical thinking method, First Principles Thinking.
A first principle is „the first basis from which a thing is known“ as Aristotle wrote 2300 years ago. Or, as Elon Musk would put it: „…boil things down to their fundamental truths and reason up from there, as opposed to reasoning by analogy.“
Most of our thinking is based on some type of analogy, be that accepted and widely held views or best practices. Unfortunately these analogies often keep us from coming up with better, more effective and innovative solutions – like SpaceX’s re-usable rockets that cost a fraction of of conventional spacecraft – if we continue to accept them as a given.
This is why many highly successful individuals beyond Elon Musk, e.g. Berkshire Hathaway’s Charlie Munger, Paypal founder Peter Thiel, Buzzfeed’s Jonah Peretti, or Netflix’s Reed Hastings are reported to regularly apply First Principles Thinking to their challenges.
Here are three articles that discuss the concept:
Elon Musk Uses This Ancient Critical-Thinking Strategy To Outsmart Everybody Else
a brief introduction to the idea from Business Insider.
First Principles: Elon Musk on the Power of Thinking for Yourself
a worthwhile blog post by James Clear that includes some useful and illustrative examples.
Still wondering, how Alexander the Great was introduced to first principles thinking? As my Greek friends proudly explained to me last year: Aristotle was Alexander’s tutor from age 13 until Alexander had to take the reins of Macedonia at the age of 16, when his father King Philip left to attack Byzantium.
Way too heavy materials this week 😉. Enjoy your weekend!