Why are first principles important?

Editor’s note: This article is from the micro-channel public number “University of chaos” (ID: hundun-university), Author: University of chaos.

On January 8, Bloomberg published an article stating that Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Inc., surpassed Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to become the world’s new Richest man.

Bloomberg said that in the past year, Tesla’s stock price has soared thanks to its continued profits. Musk’s wealth continues to increase, “this may be the fastest wealth creation in history.”

After learning the news of becoming the richest man in the world, Musk replied on social media, “It’s strange”, and then said, “Well, I’m back to work…”

As the boss of many star companies such as Tesla, SpaceX, and Neuralink, Musk’s fields cover electric vehicles, autonomous driving, space travel, super high-speed rail, and even brain-computer interfaces.

More importantly, Musk has made extraordinary achievements in these fields. For example, SpaceX, which he founded, was able to use the Cargo Dragon spacecraft to transport goods for NASA to the space station in just 10 years; 8 years later, Astronauts were sent into space, thus opening the era of global commercial manned spaceflight.

He won the title of “Silicon Valley Iron Man” and became one of the most popular leaders in the global technology circle.

Why can Musk do it?

Because of his extraordinary way of thinking, he has been thinking about problems using first principles.

Musk’s unique way of thinking

On May 31 last year, Musk’s SpaceX company sent astronauts into space, thus opening the era of global commercial manned spaceflight.

SpaceX also became the first private company to master manned spacecraft manufacturing and launch capabilities. Prior to this, this task was undertaken by the national team.

Before founding SpaceX, Musk’s entrepreneurial story was actually a bit old-fashioned-door-to-door sales, questioned, rejected, repeated defeats, repeated defeats, and successively successfully founded Zip2 and Internet financial services company “x .com”, the second company later developed into the now-famous PayPal.

In short, they are all entrepreneurs around the Internet. Although they are also very successful, they are not very different from other Internet entrepreneurs.

At that time, it was relatively easy to start a business in the Internet field compared to other fields. A saying often said in the investment circle is: “Being an industry is obsolete, let alone so painfulSuffering, or the Internet is better, and it is easy to collect money. “

But soon, Musk jumped and jumped out of this comfort zone, and it became difficult for many entrepreneurs to understand.

At the age of 28, Musk sold the first Internet company he founded for 300 million US dollars;

At the age of 31, Musk sold his second Internet company co-founded by Peter Thiel for $1.5 billion.

After that, Musk mainly invested his money in three areas: aerospace, electric vehicles, and solar energy.

Anyone with a discerning eye can see that these three fields have a common feature: the high-tech industry that has been stagnant for a long time.

But at that time, Musk poured his previous wealth into his own business, which was regarded by many as a “suicidal” entrepreneurship.

At the most difficult time, SpaceX and Tesla both faced the risk of bankruptcy.

SpaceX’s first rocket failed in the first three launch attempts and was almost on the verge of bankruptcy. It was only after receiving a $1.6 billion contract from NASA to deliver supplies to the International Space Station.

Tesla has received more than 1,200 orders and tens of millions of dollars in deposits, but it can only hand over less than 50 electric vehicles.

Musk is even regarded as a liar selling false hope.

Fortunately, he came through through gritted teeth.

Three companies have also been put to work: SpaceX has become the most stable operator in the aerospace industry; Tesla is already the world’s coolest and best-selling pure electric luxury car; Sun City is currently the largest consumer commercial solar cell Board installation supplier.

It’s not about how much money this Musk’s company made, but about making products that really make the world amazing.

After completing these seemingly impossible missions, he again set ambitiously to try to allow humans to migrate to Mars in the next 10 years.

What drives Musk to accomplish these seemingly impossible tasks is certainly not fame and fortune, but a strong sense of mission and a lifetime curiosity that accompanies a very small number of people.

When asked why he chose to make a product like Tesla with a higher failure rate than its success rate, he believed that this was just something he felt should be done, and he did not want to wait for others to achieve it.

When asked why SpaceX was founded, he thought it was to help him accumulate wealth and experience and achieve his goal of emigrating to Mars.

These answers sound a bit sensational and may even be criticized for “too pretending”.

However, if you understand the previous speeches and interviews of this maverick “Iron Man”, you will know that these words just condense his “business ideas.” He knows how to create wealth, but he pays more attention to his purpose of creating wealth.

There is a detail that reflectsIt is clear. In May 2014, he was invited to participate in the Geek Park Singularity Conference, making his debut in China.

When asked that day what he thought of the “suborbital tourism” that was so hot at the time and why SpaceX did not participate in this seemingly profitable market, he sneered, thinking that this was in addition to making some money for the rich , Does not have any substantial advancing effect on technology and mankind, he has no interest in it.

Looking back at the companies established by Musk in the past ten years, we can find that they are all focused on three projects related to long-term human survival risks: climate change, earth dependence, and human degradation.

Of course, no matter the strong sense of mission or the extraordinary achievements achieved, it does not come from a vacuum. There must be a unique way of thinking behind it.

If you ask Musk, what is his way of thinking, he may tell you a key word: first principles.

Why are first principles important?

Musk is very successful in different business fields, but he does not refine different methodologies for different fields, but applies the same underlying thinking to different fields.

For Musk, this underlying thinking is first principles.

The first-principles way of thinking is to look at the world from the perspective of physics, layer by layer aside the appearance of things, see the essence inside, and then walk up and down from the essence.

In life, people always like to think by analogy. We have to follow what others do. This is the herd effect.

How to break the herd effect? It is precisely the way of thinking in physics that allows us to return to the source of the problem and discover some counterintuitive things. Then disassemble the problem to realize combined innovation.

Musk believes that if something is physically possible, it must be achieved. If it gets stuck in the middle, it can only be blocked by a certain physical limitation.

His early subordinates once ridiculed: “Elon would use a stopwatch to record his keyboard speed, divide it by the total code amount, and then give us a task at this time.”

Don’t tell him any human weaknesses, regulatory restrictions, or social perceptions. Musk thinks that the significance of all subordinates is to help him remove these “non-physical” obstacles. If you can’t do it, get out.

“First Principles” seem to be too extreme or naive. It violently cancels the complexity of reality.

But this razor-sharp way of thinking can often grasp the essence from the fog, go straight to it, and simplify the goal.

Musk described physics in a conversation between Tsinghua University and Professor Qian YingyiThe first principles.

Next, we can see how Musk uses the same first principles repeatedly to achieve business innovation in different fields.

First, the mission was discovered using first principles.

When it comes to the word mission, we think it belongs to chicken soup, which is meaningless.

But what is different is that Musk began to think about his mission at a very young age. It can be said that his life’s career is almost a by-product of his mission.

How did he discover his mission? Just dig down in the first-principles way of thinking.

He feels that he has always had a sense of crisis. When he was in college, he chose about five directions, which he believed would have the greatest impact on the future of mankind: the Internet, renewable energy, space exploration, artificial intelligence, and reorganization of human genes.

You will be surprised to find that his mission really guides his career, and these directions are what he was doing later.

What’s even more incredible is that all of the above are actually preparations for “migration to Mars.” When you see these four words, do you feel a bit like science fiction? You will think that his money may really have nowhere to spend, just to engage in a hobby.

However, as we have seen earlier, he is very serious about “migrating to Mars”.

Why “migrate to Mars”?

His reasons are very interesting. He believes that in history, there have been five mass extinctions on the earth, and a large number of species have been extinct each time. There are as many as 2 billion species in history, but today there are very few. Based on historical deduction, it is very likely that there will be another mass extinction of species on earth in the next 50 million years.

He believes that in the face of this situation, we need to make a copy of the human species. Where is the most suitable place? The place where you can see is Mars. This is what he said about emigrating to Mars.

He also has a specific goal: to help 1 million people migrate to Mars in 40-100 years.

Why are there 1 million people?

Musk calculated that if 1 million people arrive on Mars, it is enough to help humans reproduce, even if the earth is destroyed, then 1 million people can continue to survive on Mars, or continue to emigrate further places.

He said I can do it, as long as I think of this thing, I can do any goal.

So, when you use first principles to find your true mission, it will be unbreakable and have a long enough cycle.

The Three Stages of “Immigration to Mars”

Next, Musk put “ImmigrationThe big goal of “Mars” is disassembled into three stages.

The first stage requires the invention of the rocket. He has never made a rocket, and no one believes that he can make a rocket, so at the beginning he could only spend his own money, but the money was used to launch rockets.

So his first stage rocket is very small, and the “Falcon One” has a load of only one ton.

The second stage is to realize space travel. At this time, he needs to develop heavier rockets, such as “Falcon 9”, “Dragon Spacecraft”, and “Heavy Falcon”.

The third stage is immigration to Mars.

In the process of implementing this “three-step” plan, Musk encountered many difficulties, but first-principles thinking based on physics helped him to come back to life many times.

Before starting SpaceX, everyone advised him that the cost of rockets was too high for startups to afford.

Musk’s first thought was to find a contractor to buy a rocket. He and his friends visited McDonnell Douglas in the United States and Ariane Aerospace in Europe. However, the price quoted by the other party was often hundreds of millions of dollars, which was far beyond his Acceptable range.

Later, someone introduced that Russia had an intercontinental missile that could be used as a rocket after being modified. The cost was only a few million U.S. dollars, and Musk quickly hit Russia.

When dealing with Russians, it is definitely impossible to not drink alcohol. Musk has gone through rounds of vodka spirits, but the business has not been negotiated. The reason is simple: the Russians are sitting on the ground and increasing prices.

Musk is very angry, he is going to build his own rocket.

You know, when he made this decision, his knowledge about the Rockets was zero, so what would he do?

He borrowed all professional books related to rockets and thrusters such as “Principles of Rocket Propulsion”, “Basics of Celestial Dynamics”, “Aerodynamics of Gas Turbine and Rocket Propulsion” from friends, and quickly transferred these knowledge Digestion and absorption.

Then use the disassembly method to look at the cost distribution of the rocket, and found that the raw materials are actually not much money, and the cost of launching fuel is only about 2%, so the biggest cost in the rocket is the rocket itself.

Musk also used this method when manufacturing Tesla. After going back to the source, he found that the biggest cost of electric vehicles comes from battery components. When the R&D team referred to the market price of battery components on the market and estimated that its cost would be $600/kWh, Musk used “first principles” thinking to disassemble the battery into various metal elements and other components, and then produce the battery components. Through combined innovation and continuous iterative optimization of processes, production areas, and supply chains, he finally found that buying raw materials for lithium battery packs from the London Metal Exchange and combining them together only cost $80/kWh.

Before Musk, almost everyone thought that the rocket was launched and exploded, but Musk believed that the carIt can be reused. Ships can be reused. Why can’t rockets be reused?

A private enterprise unexpectedly proposed a new concept-a recyclable rocket. After this concept is released and realized, the launch cost of SpaceX rockets is one-fifth of the industry standard, and it will be reduced to one-tenth in the next few years, which is lower than the launch costs of the US, Russia, and China.

Previously, during George W. Bush’s era, the rocket immigration cost was estimated. He thought that it would cost about 10 billion U.S. dollars to send a person to Mars. Musk felt that it was too expensive. He wanted to reduce the price to 200,000 U.S. dollars one way.

What does he do?

It is also a combined innovation, disassembling the basic elements into fuel that can be reused, replenishing fuel in orbit, and producing fuel on Mars.

Based on the above decomposition, it is necessary to find a kind of raw material, the earth has it, Mars also has it, and at the same time it can be used as a raw material for rocket transportation, he has also found it.

What should I do if I can’t? Musk said that as long as there is a goal, even if I don’t know how to do it now, I will definitely be able to find a solution.

The must-have way of thinking for future innovators

However, behind the first principles approach is extreme loneliness. Because if you really believe in the first principles, you will stick to your own direction, which will only bring extreme loneliness.

Because the human brain does not operate according to first-principles thinking. The master of cognitive science, Hushida, has always believed that the brain understands the world according to the analogy model, rather than the logic of the machine. Using the human brain to think first-principles is like running the windows system on a macbook.

Unless, you are not a human being, but an AI. Or, you train yourself to think like an AI.

Musk consciously trained this kind of thinking the day after tomorrow. His subordinates found that the more shocking pressure he faced, the more he could refine his rational spirit to the extreme and prevent any “non-physical” Factors confuse one’s own decisions, even if they only sleep 4 hours a day.

Musk can achieve nano-level management at SpaceX. What is nano-level management? The material and model of each screw are well known.

Even so, any new rocket launch requires more than 10 failures to be successful. Sure enough, SpaceX’s first launch failed in 2006, the second launch failed again in 2007, and the third launch failed again in 2008. Musk’s money was immediately gone. No one believed him, no one could. Give him money.

Under extreme pressure, Musk took the plan seriouslyNew look, the fourth launch three months later was finally successful.

Musk is actually an extremely bad person. He has a violent personality and makes the people around him very miserable. The love is also very unsatisfactory. Several wives left him. Once when a reporter interviewed him, he cried and said, “Can you introduce me to a girlfriend?” Because he had a lot of thoughts and thoughts, he was extremely lonely.

So, if you really think like Musk, you will be on a path of extreme loneliness. No one can really help you, no one can really understand you, you only have to do what you are doing, and all your emotions are poured out there.

If you ask Musk today whether the “migration to Mars” can be successful, it doesn’t really matter at all. As Copernicus said, the sun is the center of the universe. Is that correct? Of course it is wrong, but this error is not important at all. The important thing is that it reminds us that the earth is only a small part of the universe and we should look out. This thinking is particularly important. As long as you look out, you will soon know that the sun is not the center of the universe.

The narrow door was opened, and the person who opened the narrow door was actually the most remarkable.

Why is Musk so good?

Our education often says that to become a world-class expert, you need to dig deep in a field. Musk broke this rule. He studied two majors in his undergraduate course: business and physics, and then went to study rocket science, engineering, physics, artificial intelligence, solar energy, energy and other fields.

He has a transfer-based learning method-disassembling knowledge to the level of basic principles for transfer, even learning is a first-principle learning method, as long as the foundation is removed enough, it can be transferred to a new field. go with.

So he applied the same first principles in different fields, founded the largest online payment company PayPal in the Internet industry; founded SolarCity, a house-sharing energy company in the energy industry; created Tesla in the automotive industry; founded in the aviation industry SpaceX; OpenAI, the founder of Open AI in the scientific and technological world…

Only by applying first principles and being transferable can we enter so many fields.

Learning does not necessarily require learning the minutiae, but you must learn the most basic principles.

There is a question in “A Brief History of Mankind”, why did the scientific revolution appear in Europe? The scientific revolution started in Western Europe and Great Britain. Human history had never felt that it was so important before. Before that, China’s technological level was much higher than that of Europe. In 1775, China accounted for 1/3 of the world’s total economic output. Before the Tang and Song Dynasties, China accounted for about 60% of the world’s technological inventions. Since the modern world’s scientific revolution, there have been 6,000 basic scientific theorems and laws. The original contribution is less than 1%.

So there is the famous “Needham Question”-Europe did not face China in 1770What are the technological advantages, and why will such a big gap be opened in the next 100 years?

Herari’s answer is that traditional China does not lack the technology for making steam engines, but the most revolutionary philosophy and scientific thinking in the West.

Eastern civilization is a technical thinking, trial and error method in operation, practice operation first, experience summary later, inductive thinking.

The experience induction model is concrete thinking. The advantage is that it is fast, but the disadvantage is that it does not have domain transferability. For example, gunpowder. We invented firecrackers, but we couldn’t transfer this technology to guns. If we want to migrate to guns, we must sink into the subject of mathematics, physics and chemistry.

The modern West is philosophical thinking, logical trial and error, theoretical assumptions first, practical experience second, and deductive thinking.

The disadvantage of abstract thinking is slow, but the advantage is transferability. Once a common abstract concept is logically derived, all the concrete problems related to this are all resolved at once. For example, Newtonian mechanics solved all the problems in the field of classical mechanics, and engineers applied it to industry, which directly triggered the industrial revolution.

Therefore, the future innovators should be scientists + philosophers + entrepreneurs, with scientific thinking, philosophical thinking, and business thinking.

If we have the unique first principles like Musk, we will start thinking from the essence of everything, and then work backwards from the essence, and can transfer the essence to different fields. If you have this way of thinking, you will not lose information about the results because of temporary difficulties, and you will not make futile efforts because you are too ambitious-because you are very clear about your goals, which are derived from “first principles” The inevitable result.

This kind of rational thinking is especially worth learning.