Arnav Mayur

Aug 9, 2020

3 min read

Elon Musk, First Principles and the Future

Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

It is no secret that Elon Musk is one of the most successful entrepreneurs and minds of the 21st century. He founded and runs Tesla and SpaceX, two visionary companies guiding the future of technology and mankind.

He is also an extremely productive man, splitting his time between both of these companies and infamously working 80 to 100 hour weeks. Yet, he still finds time for interviews, family and being a popular internet personality.

Elon Musk’s visionary thinking and principles have helped reshape and re-construct the age-old industries of automobiles and space exploration. His cars and spacecraft have one thing especially in common: they defy the status quo that existed within the industry.

Musk, in multiple interviews, has attributed this complete shift of perspective he developed to a mental model he calls ‘first principles thinking’.

This involves breaking a product, idea or concept down to its most bare and fundamental principles, not only to understand how it works, but how it can be optimised and improved.

If you really think about it, you can see multiple examples of the implementation of this model in so many Musk-developed products. For instance, a very small example would be to push the door-handles of the car into the body of the car to make the design more aerodynamic. Teslas don’t have door handles popping out of the body like every other car.

Using such a model of thinking, Musk has managed to remove so many frills and unnecessary parts of cars and rockets, both of which were deemed ‘important’ by the industry. By doing this, not only has he streamlined the production, but also found room for so many new features.

Another important leap he has made is the introduction of ‘autopilot’ and self-driving technology in the cars. Although it is still in development, it seems highly promising with thousands of users across the country. Even if all the Tesla users use this feature for a small amount of time, it is enough for Elon to gather hours of footage and experimentation that his customers are doing for him.

This kind of thinking has allowed him to sweep the car industry with an entirely new way of thinking. Although Teslas are extremely unique in their own right, with almost no buttons in the car and a variety of stand-out features like a fully functional tablet-esque control panel, other companies have begun to take notice.

Although they are stubborn to change their modes of thinking, they have begun to develop their own electric cars and using certain elements of Tesla design. Some have even begun testing their own auto-pilot and self-driving functionalities.

While this may seem like competition for Elon, it is in fact exactly what he wants. He used this basic, almost primitive yet highly functional mental model to revolutionise an industry that was stagnated and dominated by traditional companies. As he has stated multiple times, he only wants to change the industry for the better.

There are many industries around the world that have this dire need of a revolution, and can easily be improved and made more efficient with first principles thinking. However, Elon certainly doesn’t have time to set up his own companies and monitor all of these industries. So hopefully, we have more people thinking like him with the motive of changing the world for the better.