What Musk, Bezos, Thiel and Feynman teach us about First Principles
Ameet Ranadive
595

This is an attractive article because you’ve pooled a very useful set of thoughts from influential thinkers into one place. They all share a similar prowess amongst wannabe entrepreneurs. They’re all very successful in their own ways, however, the article lacks something. You’re selling innovation via first principles thinking but you don’t fully deliver.

You’ve triumphantly exclaimed in the opening sentences that first principles thinking will lead to ‘game changing innovation’ but you don’t share your definition of innovation? Here’s why you need to define it — In Zero To One, Peter Thiel uses the words ‘monopoly’ and ‘innovation’ interchangeably. Surely they can’t mean the same thing? It’s an unsettling thought if they do.

Also, can you create an argument for a way of thinking that opposes reasoning by analogy by using reasoning by analogy? There is an opportunity here to have a stab at some first principles thinking the Feynman way: get to the bottom of everyone else’s thinking and begin from there. Thiel’s framing of innovation with ‘a vertical and horizontal axis’ indicating 0 or 1 for innovative or not innovative is reasoning by analogy. He’s asking us to think of innovation like vertical progress. Your example:

“This type of innovation is called “vertical progress:” going from 0 to 1, doing something that nobody has ever done before. Vertical progress is much harder to do than “horizontal progress:” going from 1 to n, copying things that already work.”

I apologise for picking on the Thiel example of what is an otherwise great collection of thoughts but here’s an opportunity to get underneath his definition of first principles thinking:

“Because every innovation is new and unique, no authority can prescribe in concrete terms how to be innovative. Indeed, the single most powerful pattern I have noticed is that successful people find value in unexpected places, and they do this by thinking about business from first principles instead of formulas.”

It appears that he acknowledges the importance of the existence of first principles thinking within a successful business but he hasn’t gone on to define it or it may be that you haven’t clipped the best example? You could finish it off for him.

You need to define innovation to give the article some real teeth and you could be more critical of the information you picked — thanks for sharing this it was an enjoyable read.

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