A friend shared with me a recent Elon Musk interview in which Musk explained his views on first-principles thinking:
To create a new product, many people start by understanding the available tools and methods. Then they use them to create the product. This is a flawed way of going about it. Existing tools and methods act as constraints, limiting our thinking about what’s possible. If something can’t be built with existing means, most people think it can’t be done. So, they create what’s possible given the available tools and methods, not what’s ideal.
To apply a first-principles approach, begin by imagining the theoretical perfect product. Then try to figure out how to build it. If existing tools and methods can be used, great. If not, create the necessary tools and methods!
First-principles thinking isn’t new, but it was interesting to hear Musk’s take on it.