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The Philosophy Behind Elon Musk’s Bid to Turn Tesla Into a Home Battery Maker

The CEO’s “first principles” mantra forces employees to test the laws of nature and physics
Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Photographer: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

There’s a refrain you’ll hear from current and former employees of Elon Musk. He’s forever asking his staff to go back to “first principles.”

This is the idea that the engineers at Tesla Motors and SpaceX need to tackle problems with the freshest of eyes: Don’t assume anything. Don’t accept that what people have done before you is correct. Instead, formulate your engineering problem clearly and then start at the most basic level to solve it. In first-principles speak, this means getting right down to the raw physics to see if there are any laws of nature that might get in your way. If the physics allow for the possibility of something to happen, then carry on, even if the job seems very hard.