How Elon Musk Became Rich By Doing This One Unusual Thing

By: Eszter C.

The top 1% don’t work more. They think better. Elon Musk didn’t become a multi-billionaire by outworking all of his competitors (although, he did work a lot). Instead, he adopted a new way of thinking that abandons the traditional beliefs of society. This way of reasoning is called first principle thinking. The most successful people innovate using abstract truths instead of building on complex ideas.

When you design a solution to a problem, you understand how it works in its entirety. If something breaks, you can explain what went wrong and fix it. However, if someone adopts your solution, but doesn’t take the time to understand its core principles, they will never know how it works or why it didn’t solve the problem. First-principles thinking breaks the belief that you must look at how others solved similar challenges so you can discover new and better solutions.

Let’s look at Elon Musk again. In 2002, Musk decided he wanted to send people to Mars. To do so, he would have to buy a rocket, which boasted a price tag of about $65 million. He realized buying expensive equipment wouldn’t fulfill his vision of sending people to Mars, so he decided to break down the components of rockets. He found that he could lower the material cost to two percent of the original price. Thus, SpaceX was born, where he builds spacecrafts from the ground up. He became an industry leader by constructing cheap rockets while making large profits. It’s often societal beliefs that limit potential, not our capabilities.

People never question the analogies that simplify elaborate ideas. They end up arguing on wobbly opinions that they never agreed to in the first place. Individuals outsource thinking to other people and adopt their beliefs without examining if they comply with them or not. Often, it’s other people that set limits to your dreams and goals.

To prevent this habit, you must reverse-engineer intricate problems by questioning. Think like a scientist and doubt everything that has not been proven true. Consider using first principles when you do something for the first time, deal with complex problems, or try to understand problematic circumstances. The differentiation between those who work hard and those who are successful has little to do with the number of dedicated hours. It has everything to do with a different way of thinking.


  • First Principles: The Building Blocks of True Knowledge. (2020, April 3). Farnam Street. Retrieved from
  • Clear, J. (2020, February 3). First Principles: Elon Musk on the Power of Thinking for Yourself. James Clear. Retrieved from

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