“5 Game-Changing Thinking Approaches to Solve Workplace Problems Like Elon Musk”

How First Principles Thinking Can Improve Your Work Performance

In the world of business, ambition and hard work are two key factors to succeed, but they are not enough to overcome all the hurdles that come our way. To achieve success, we need to be skilled problem-solvers. However, not everyone possesses strong problem-solving abilities. If you’re looking for ways to improve your problem-solving skills, the thinking approach adopted by successful entrepreneurs like Elon Musk might be beneficial. It’s called First Principles Thinking.

What is First Principles Thinking?

When tackling problems, there are two types of thinking- comparison thinking and first principles thinking. Comparison thinking involves coming up with a solution that comprises pre-existing ideas. The major downside of this approach is that it’s assuming rather than questioning because it builds on established ideas. On the other hand, first principles thinking allows you to start from scratch, without any pre-existing ideas, and establishes a solid foundation to create innovative ideas.

The Benefits of First Principles Thinking

First Principles Thinking helps you break down complex problems and gives you a better understanding of the unknown, leading to unique innovative thinking. Instead of thinking in terms of analogy, you can potentially see things in much finer detail. It’s a powerful approach to problem-solving.

How Can I Apply First Principles Thinking?

First principles thinking can be used in several ways, the most significant being to improve work performance. Regardless of the career path, you’re on, using First Principles Thinking will enable you to come up with new ideas, ways to improve your business, or potential new business strategies to present to your boss.

The three fundamental questions you should use to focus your mind and break free of the limited assumptions are:

1. What am I trying to accomplish?
2. What is the fundamental problem?
3. What really matters to the people I’m reaching with this?

This approach enables you to get to the core motivation and understanding rather than using an existing idea and trying to see how to make it better.

Real-World Examples of First Principles Thinking

Musk talked about his thinking behind Tesla, his electric car company. The comparison thinking would lead someone to say “electric cars will never take off because batteries are too expensive.” This thought process holds limitations and could lead to the company not going down a profitable route.

However, Musk approached the problem differently and asked, “What are the materials used to make these batteries? What is the market value of these individual materials? Could we, therefore, produce the batteries much cheaper?”. He found that this approach was much cheaper, and by rebuilding the components rather than building upon existing ideas, the initial assumption that batteries are too expensive was wrong.

First principles thinking involves breaking out of limited thinking and assumptions that we tend to conclude from previous evidence. It’s about looking at something from a new angle, questioning until we reach the core answer.


Problem-solving is a crucial skill in business, and to become a successful entrepreneur, you need to be an excellent problem-solver. First principles thinking is a powerful thinking approach that allows you to break down complex problems, develop better knowledge of the unknown, and establish a strong foundation to create innovative ideas. By applying first principles thinking to your work life, you’ll find that the possibilities multiply because you can find new and creative solutions that others miss.

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