Wednesday, April 15, 2015

First Principles Creativity

It is safe to say the people who innovate new ideas and materials tend to have high levels of creativity. Someone who starts a company like Apple, specializing in creative new ways of making technological leaps to help make people's lives is creative. So how about one man, who put major newspaper companies like the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times, founded Paypal and a space transportation company called SpaceX, and is the brains behind SolarCity, and is the CEO of Tesla Motors. Meet Elon Musk, who is only 43 years old and has a more extensive CV than most people will have in their lifetimes.

Elon Musk - The Summit 2013.jpg
Elon Musk.
Source: Wikipedia
Mr. Musk's ideas are so unique, yet very important to the future of humanity. He created SpaceX as a company to explore the potential for sustaining human life on other planets when Earth is no longer able to sustain an ever-growing human population. The idea behind SolarCity is to allow individual homes to harness the sun's energy for all their electrical needs. This goes hand-in-hand with Tesla Motors, a company aimed at making good-looking, and well-driving, long range electric cars for the public. Mr. Musk's vision for SolarCity and Tesla Motors is that of an electrical producer and consumer on a small scale, such as within a single-family home. More recently, Mr. Musk has talked about the possibility of a high speed ground transportation system called the Hyperloop. So where do these great ideas come from?

Mr. Musk has been asked that question in a lot of different interviews and his creative process stems from the idea of first principles. According to him, the first principles method allows you to go to the fundamental truths about how things work and what is possible, and then you can reason up from there. He criticizes our current methods of innovating because a lot of it is derived by analogy. The analogies only allow small refinements to what already exists, whereas the first principles thinking can allow innovation to occur in big leaps and bounds.

Cargo delivery module developed by SpaceX berthed to ISS
Source: Wikipedia

In their study, J.C. Kaufman and R.A. Beghetto classify the four C model of creativity expanding the dichotomy of big C/little C creativity. There is no question that Elon Musk is a big C creative. Big C creativity is described as something that consists of a clear-cut, eminent creative contributions. It goes on to describe that examples of big C creativity can be seen in Pulitzer prize winning authors, or people with entries longer than 100 sentences in the Encyclopedia Britannica. There is little doubt in my mind that Elon Musk will be looked up to as one of the greatest human beings of the century if not the millennium. His work and ideas have the potential to thrust mankind into a more sophisticated, radical-yet-elegant future.

Here is an interview with Elon Musk about his life and achievements if you are curious to know more about this inspirational creative:

Christensen, T. (2013, December 3). How Elon Musk Thinks: The First Principles Method. Retrieved April 16, 2015, from
Kaufman, J., & Beghetto, R. (2009). Beyond Big And Little: The Four C Model Of Creativity. Review of General Psychology, 13, 1-12.

1 comment:

  1. It amazes me that one person can have so many innovative ideas in multiple different areas. In class we were talking about people "firing themselves" when they have worked on things for too long which typically leads to another big C. From what I could gather from this post, Elon Musk did not need to fire himself from a project before starting a new one. I think that is very indicative of a very creative mind; especially considering his knowledge and creativity spans from creating paypal to electric cars to SpaceX.


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