How To Think And Solve Problems Like Elon Musk
How to think and solve problems like Elon Musk? Want to tackle and solve problems at work like a boss? Are you tired when you have to face tricky problems that seem unsolvable? Learn this thinking approach from Elon Musk and you will get results you’ve never been thought of.
Elon Musk has successfully started four billion-dollar companies: PayPal, Solar City, SpaceX, and Tesla.
To launch them — and to answer any complex question — he uses the same approach each time. It’s the scientific method and it’s really helpful for figuring out the tricky things.
It might be tempted to link Elon Musk’s rapid success, ability to solve unsolvable problems and genius level creativity to his incredible work ethic.
WarningNo doubt work ethic plays an important role in unlocking your inner creative genius and becoming the best at what you do — but there’s more to this — there are extremely hard-working people who still make little progress in life and die before sharing their best work with the world.
The worst thing you could do for your business right now is ignore problems. Pretend that everything is as it always was, and not adapt to the changing world.
Your business needs you to take action — to think critically about the problem and come up with smart, creative solutions. The mental strategy we’re about to explain, used by Elon Musk, can help you do that.
If you’re eager to improve your work performance, you probably consider yourself an ambitious and forward-thinking contributor to the world of business.
But let’s face the fact: ambition and hard work alone are not enough to help us overcome numerous hurdles on our career paths. What sends some people to the pinnacle of success is their strong problem-solving ability.
Elon Musk says the scientific method is too rarely used by business leaders. Let’s talk about how you can quickly use this genius problem solving method.
Many entrepreneurs think about what their competitors are doing or what they wish were true, when they should be following a standardized process to learn if it actually is true. Read on to learn the six-step scientific method as defined by Elon Musk.
Identify The Problem And Its Current Assumptions
This is, quite obviously, your first step. Take a minute and think about the problems you’re facing as a business — there might be a glaring one, or there might be a few that aren’t as obvious.
Sit with the question(s) — and ask yourself whether they’re important, urgent, and solvable.
If only one is, that’s the problem you want to focus on. If all of them are, then pick the one that’s the most pressing right now — you may find that by solving that one first, you’ll have unintentionally solved a couple of the others, too.
Elon Musk starts out with something he wants to achieve, like building a rocket. His approach to understanding reality is to start with what is true — not with his intuition.
WarningThe problem is that we don’t know as much as we think we do, so our intuition isn’t very good. We trick ourselves into thinking we know what’s possible and what’s not. The way Elon Musk thinks is much different.
Elon Musk, a notorious self-learner with degrees in both economics and physics, literally taught himself rocket science. He figured that the only reason getting a rocket into space is so expensive is that people are stuck in a mindset that doesn’t hold up to first principles. With that, Elon Musk decided to create SpaceX and see if he could build rockets himself from the ground up.
A common problem for entrepreneurs is I do not know how to grow my business.
Once you identify the problem, determine any preconceived beliefs that are stopping you from finding other answers. Often, these assumptions limit our potential to see beyond the solutions others have already tried.
Every problem-solving endeavor begins with an initial problem definition.
WarningIt requires understanding that our experience may be different from reality and true knowledge can be attained by learning to integrate different ideas together. It fills the gap between the incremental mindset to opening ourselves to the beautiful world of possibilities.
Breakdown The Problem Into Fundamental Principles
This is often the most difficult part, and the key is to ask the right questions — by challenging the common assumptions. Keep digging deeper and deeper until you are left with only the fundamental truths.
Clarifying problem is where the breakdown begins. You take the problem and you look at the big picture.
Fundamental principles are basically the most basic truths or elements of anything. The best way to uncover these truths is to ask powerful questions that uncover these ingenious gems.
Breaking down problem is where you really start dismantling the lego blocks of the problem. This step gives you the power to throw out the details and look solely at the fundamental truths.
You want to be asking questions like, what is the essential part of the problem? What happens if we ignore the problem? What happens if we act on the problem?
The best way to use this way of brainstorming is for improving performance at work. Whatever career path you’re on — coming up with new ideas, ways to improve your business or presenting a potential new business strategy to your boss –using first principles thinking will allow you to fully research and understand what will be successful and what won’t be.
The best solution is not where everyone is already looking. First principles thinking helps you to cobble together information from different disciplines to create new ideas and innovations.
WarningYou start by getting to the facts. Once you have a foundation of facts, you can make a plan to improve each little piece. This process naturally leads to exploring widely for better substitutes.
It is essential to remember here to look at a situation just like a tree. A fruit is the obvious thing one notices when watching a tree.
But you have to remember, the fruit hangs on a branch, which shoots out of the trunk and which comes out of the root. And your goal is to reach the root.
Create New Solutions From Scratch
Essentially, First Principles Thinking helps you reverse engineer a problem by breaking it down and reassembling its pieces from the ground up. Using this method, you can perceive your issues from a different perspective, unlock your creativity, and create solutions you would not have devised otherwise.
Once you’ve broken down your problems or assumptions into their most basic truths, you can begin to create new insightful solutions from scratch.
WarningThe human tendency for imitation is a common roadblock to first principles thinking. When most people envision the future, they project the current form forward rather than projecting the function forward and abandoning the form.
Be wary of the ideas you inherit. Old conventions and previous forms are often accepted without question and, once accepted, they set a boundary around creativity.
This difference is one of the key distinctions between continuous improvement and First Principles Thinking. Continuous improvement tends to occur within the boundary set by the original vision whereas First Principles Thinking requires you to abandon your allegiance to previous forms and put the function front and center.
Nobody could have predicted the phenomenon of SpaceX. Everybody just assumed private space industry is a pipe dream. Costs are exorbitant, Technology is very inaccessible, regulations, so on and so forth. But SpaceX showed its doable. Elon Musk followed the First principle method.
What looks like innovation is often an iteration of previous forms rather than an improvement of the core function.
The first rolling suitcase wasn’t invented until 1970 when Bernard Sadow was hauling his luggage through an airport and saw a worker rolling a heavy machine on a wheeled skid.
Fundamental truths are like building blocks. Once you’ve gathered them, you can use them to create an entirely new and innovative solution.
Creative problem solvers excel at questioning, constantly challenging the status quo with ‘why not’ questions to turn things upside down. They also frequently ask ‘what if’ questions to envision a different future.
Creative problem solvers also stand out at networking, talking with diverse people to spark a new way to solve perplexing problems.
They are also intense observers, carefully watching the world around them — especially customers, products, services, and processes — with a beginner’s mindset. Finally, they search for new solutions by constantly experimenting.
Questions are the business equivalent of sonar. Asking the right question will help you find your way through a problem, locate the right customers, avoid future difficulties, and outperform your competitors. Questions also act as a filter that will help you decipher the key elements of a situation.
Questioning the questions is the devil’s advocate portion of the process, where you look at the solutions you’ve come up with and you question them.
Was the process sound? Are you confident in your breakdown of the problem? Are you confident that your solutions have a high chance of achieving the results you’re looking for?
When you need to approach a big, urgent problem with a new perspective, First Principles Thinking gives you that perspective.
It invites you to think things through critically, objectively, and creatively — and it doesn’t require any expensive tools or extensive manpower to do it. Just you, your brain, and your business.
Look at the difference between these two questions: How can I improve on trucks? What are the necessary components of a good truck? Elon Musk thinks in the latter terms, which allows him to work from a clean slate and make something new.
Ask yourself: If the problem didn’t exist and I could create a solution that was based on a desire, what would that solution be?
If your core desire is to develop an inexpensive product that is effective, then you might design a new product made with more sustainable and inexpensive materials, or with a completely unique engine or operating system.
Bad questions are action-focused and are worded in a way that something practical should come out of asking it.
WarningBut in fact, they’re poor questions to ask when solving a problem, because they get very narrow answers. No ground-breaking ideas will come out of these, because the desired solution is integrated within the question itself.
Gather Evidence And Challenge The Truth
It isn’t developing a hypothesis. Instead, this is the research phase. For scientists, this could mean conducting an experiment. But for entrepreneurs, it could mean interviewing experts, digging into literature on the subject or even working in a certain industry.
Often, this step means getting your hands dirty — sometimes even literally.
It’s pretty self-explanatory, but it’s also a big gun in the process. It’s where you take the fundamental truths of the problem and you start to brainstorm possible fixes and take action accordingly.
Then, you will want to develop hypotheses based on the evidence. Try to assign a probability of truth to each hypothesis.
WarningMany people consider every probability as either 50–50 or one-in-a-million. You should be nuanced about the way you consider the likelihood of each axiom (a statement that might be true, but does not yet have evidence), or else you might end up falling back into the same old habits as before.
Procrastination is not your friend when it comes to problem solving. When a problem is avoided it either becomes a larger problem or splits into many problems. Be diligent about defining the problem and gathering solid information so that you can brainstorm effectively.
Collect information based on evidence… not on feelings. It’s easier to come up with problem-solving strategies when you’re not emotionally charged.
An informed mind is much more capable of resolution than an uninformed one. Observe what is going right, or the positive aspects of the subject at hand, and to see if it gives ideas of how to fix what’s going wrong.
Critical thinking is clear, reasonable, reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do.
It means asking probing questions like “How do we know?” or “Is this true in every case or just in this instance?” It involves being skeptical and challenging assumptions rather than simply memorizing facts or blindly accepting what you hear or read.
Attempt To Disprove Your Conclusion
Even if you have enough evidence to feel comfortable in your conclusion, you should still seek others’ advice. Otherwise, you could fall into the trap of confirmation bias — seeking out evidence that proves you are right, rather than evidence that could prove you are wrong — or other problems.
Attempt to disprove the conclusion. Seek refutation from others to further help break your conclusion.
You will always look at something from a certain point of view, and adding new input will help find whether there are any holes in your axioms. This goes back to Elon Musk’s larger point, which is that business leaders too often act on what they wish would work instead of what actually does.
If nobody can invalidate your conclusion, then you’re probably right.
WarningThat’s an important distinction. New information can always arise, and that evidence might disprove even long-held theories about the world. So, don’t dig your heels into a certain line of thinking, because it’s likely to change over time.
People’s unintentional use of the jumping-to-conclusions fallacy is generally prompted by the jumping-to-conclusions bias. This means that the jumping-to-conclusions bias causes people to jump to conclusions when it comes to their internal reasoning process, which in turn causes them to use the jumping-to-conclusions fallacy in their arguments.
In a fast business environment, you need to make sure your actions and decisions are founded on reality.
WarningLikewise, when you accept or challenge other people’s conclusions, you need be confident that their reasoning, and yours, is firmly based on the true facts. The “Ladder of Inference” helps you achieve this.
The Ladder of Inference helps you draw better conclusions, or challenge other people’s conclusions based on true facts and reality.
It can be used to help you analyze hard data, such as a set of sales figures, or to test assertions. This step-by-step reasoning process helps you remain objective and, when working or challenging others, reach a shared conclusion without conflict.
Too often, we make major decisions based on outdated or false information. But in a rapidly changing world, historical truths and experience may not always work, which is why it’s sometimes necessary to take a step back and use a scientific approach to create a more creative solution.
Usually, when we’re faced with complex problems, we default to thinking like everybody else.
First Principles Thinking is a powerful way to help you break out of this herd mentality. By identifying your current assumptions, breaking these down into their basic truths and creating solutions from scratch — you can uncover these ingenious solutions to complex problems and make unique contributions in any field.
First Principles Thinking is a helpful approach to attacking problems creatively. And if you want to become an innovative leader, you will need to be as creative as you can in navigating around the obstacles that get in your way.
WarningIf you want to enhance an existing process or belief, continuous improvement is a great option. If you want to learn how to think for yourself, reasoning from first principles is one of the best ways to do it.
Try to think using First principles Thinking, try to think different. They might sound crazy at first, but as Elon Musk says, “Good ideas are always crazy until they’re not.”
So we’ll leave you with this: it might be a new world out there, but you have the mental — and the physical — tools you need to adapt to it. Don’t just sit back and try to wait out the storm. Get to problem-solving. We can’t wait to see what you come up with.
Digital Dandy. Hacker From Heart. Workaholic. Coding Artist. Self-made.