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10 Thoughts on the First Principles Thinking framework

This is a decision process that Elon Musk and Sam Altman both mention and use. I decided to try to understand it.

"Good ideas are always crazy until they're not." - Elon Musk

10 Thoughts on the First Principles Thinking framework

    1. Question everything you know and treat each issue as if you were a new born baby

    2. "People who reason by analogy make bad decisions, even if they are smart."

    When you try to follow "best practices" followed by most people and try to make incremental improvements instead of bigger leaps you frequently don't get outstanding results.

    3. Step one of three: identify and define your current assumptions

    Think deeply about the problem you are trying to solve. Albert Einstein recommends spending 90% of your time considering and defining the problem.

    4. Step two of three: break down the problem into fundamental principles.

    From Musk: View knowledge as a semantic tree. Know the trunk and big branches well before getting into the details of the leaves.

    5. Step three of three: create new solutions from scratch

    6. Example one: Batteries

    This is from an interview that Elon Musk did with Charlie Rose.

    Step one: Batteries are really expensive: $600 per kilowatt hour and they always will be.

    Step two: What are the parts/materials needed to make a battery? How much could you buy them for on the London Metals Exchange?

    With this research he determined that those costs were closer to $80 per Kwh.

    Step 3: figure out how to combine those materials into the shape of battery cells.

    7. Example two: Space X

    SpaceX: A First Principles Company

    Step one: going to space is really expensive. Only Governments can do it. Also, Rockets can only be used once. Musk points out that if you threw away a 747 every time it flew the tickets would cost $500,000. In 2010 NASA was paying roughly $380 million per launch.

    Step two: SpaceX calculated that the price of raw materials was about 2% of the rocket cost. Musk thinks that he can get costs down to $2 million per launch: right now they are at $67 million.

    Step three:

    8. Example 3: Losing Weight

    Step one: I can't lose weight: my biology is working against me. It is too hard. The diets are too expensive. I am addicted to food/sugar.

    Step two: How do you lose weight? Eat fewer calories. Eat lower calorie-dense foods from the edge of the grocery store. Move more.

    Step three: intermittent fasting. Eat 40 - 80% of your calories as vegetables & fruits. You can eat pounds of food in a day and stay under 2000 calories if you choose the right ones. This type of eating is very simple but not always easy until you get into the habit. A typical filling meal for me is 1 -1.5 lbs of sauteed green vegetables (broccoli, green beans, spinach) and a piece of meat (turkey burger, tuna steak). Move every day. Get a dog that you need to take out all the time.

    9. Example 4: Learning Guitar

    Step one: learning all the scales and chords is too confusing. There are too many: literally thousands.

    Step two: Why are there so many? Much of this is because the tuning is not symmetrical and you need to learn three versions of each chord and scale shape.

    Step three: Switch to a symmetrical Perfect Fourths tuning and reduce the number of scales by 66%!

    Shameless Plug: Guitar in Fourth Gear: Perfect Fourths Tuning for 6 String Guitar: Transform Your Guitar Playing with the Symmetry, Logic and Simplicity of Perfect Fourths Tuning. Hundreds of diagrams and exercises!

    10. Example 5: Publishing a book

    Step One: Publishing a book is for other people. It would cost thousands of dollars and I would need to hire editors, graphic designers and spend a long time doing it. I would have to order boxes of them.

    Step two: Learn the tools: Kindle Direct, ChatGPT (if desired). Make a .pdf, find or create a cover image that you like and create the book. Books on this platform are available electronically and can be print on demand and delivered in just a few days. Total cost: close to zero.

    Step three: make a publishing plan and stick to it. Three steps: Create, edit, and publish. Give yourself a deadline. The perfect is the enemy of the good.

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