Find a Way: Putting First Principles to Work
“All men by nature desire to know,” Aristotle wrote. Here’s how this idea, hatched nearly 2,500 years ago, makes groundbreaking strides possible.
Does Elon Musk ever rest?
Less than a week after SpaceX became the first private company to send two astronauts into space, the tech entrepreneur and engineer reminded his teams to keep their eyes on the stars.
In a company-wide email, which Michael Sheetz at CNBC read and reported about, Musk asked his teams to speed up progress on their Starship rocket program “dramatically and immediately.” His company’s website describes Starship as “a fully reusable transportation system” that’s being built to carry both humans and cargo to Mars and beyond.
On the day the email went out, Musk tweeted an aerial photo (bright, blue skies and wide open spaces) of his Starship Production Complex in Texas and followed that with these words: “Gateway to Mars.”
Where does he get all his audacious ideas?
How does one’s brain have to be wired to come up with dreams like fully reusable rockets or sustainable electric transport or home batteries made cheaper and more dependable so that these would (eventually) allow more homes to run on solar energy?
Musk has repeatedly recommended thinking in first principles.
In April 2018, when he sent an email asking all Tesla employees to watch expenses more carefully, the concept came up. He asked that all Tesla managers who proposed expenses above $1M made sure they had obtained “a detailed, first principles understanding of the supplier quote, including every line item of parts and labor, before we meet.”
Musk has long been committed to developing a more reliable home battery system that would empower more homes to use solar energy. For him, that has meant asking: what are batteries made of? “What is the stock market value of the material constituents?” Is there a way to source those materials elsewhere or perhaps make them so you can make batteries that are “much, much cheaper than anyone realizes”?
Thinking in first principles means deliberately avoiding analogy. It requires letting go of a previous solution or process even if “that’s always the way things have been done around here.”
It also requires the humility and curiosity to try something, rather than assuming that it’s no good because nobody has ever done it that way before.
Thinking in first principles isn’t itself a new idea.
It dates back to Aristotle, who defined first principles as “the first basis from which a thing is known.” Like building blocks.
The moment the astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley stepped from the Crew Dragon capsule and into the International Space Station just before May ended, the possibilities further opened up for private companies dreaming of the vast possibilities of space.
Manufacturing in zero-gravity conditions.
And in Elon Musk’s case, the creation of a habitable colony on Mars.
All of that just moved closer to reality because remarkable individuals were willing to question common beliefs about problems they were trying to solve. And kept finding a way through or around every obstacle that stood between them and their dreams.
Find a Way is one of 7 core values in the GoTeam tribe. Thanks for taking the time to find out more about the remarkable culture we’re constantly building here!