February 8, 2018

CEO School: First Principles



Elon Musk








Miyamoto Musashi
Elon Musk credits his success to "First Principles Thinking".

Here's the main idea:

“It is important to view knowledge as a sort of semantic tree. Make sure you understand the fundamental principles, ie the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.”   - Elon Musk


He applies this thinking methodology to his success in his technology businesses, based on his study of Physics. Elon isn't revealing anything new here, just saying that the fundamentals of Physics have been known for a long time and he's just focusing on executing based on these principles.

What about Life? Are there First Principles that govern Life? And if we could know such principles, and apply them consistently, would they serve us well in our drive for Success in Life? And if we were successful in Life would these same principles also apply to Business?

My answer is Yes, and I think Elon would agree that the Scientific Method, Cause and Effect, applies to all of human endeavor, not just Physics. 

OK, so what are the First Principles of Life?

Allow me to introduce my favorite philosopher, Miyamoto Musashi, a most revered man in Japanese culture who wrote an extraordinary book almost 400 years ago. The Book of Five Rings is his analysis of sword fighting based on his life as an undefeated samurai warrior.  The book says nothing about business, and yet it is a fundamental training manual for people in modern business in Japan. They take business seriously!

In his advanced age, just before he died, as he was preparing to leave this life, he wrote a very short piece called Dokkodo (The Way of Walking Alone). After having mastered the life of a Warrior, and as his parting gift to all, he left us 21 lines of his best thinking of success in Life.

Here they are:

  1. Miyamoto MusashiAccept everything just the way it is.
  2. Do not seek pleasure for its own sake.
  3. Do not, under any circumstances, depend on a partial feeling.
  4. Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world.
  5. Be detached from desire your whole life long.
  6. Do not regret what you have done.
  7. Never be jealous.
  8. Never let yourself be saddened by a separation.
  9. Resentment and complaint are appropriate neither for oneself or others.
  10. Do not let yourself be guided by the feeling of lust or love.
  11. In all things have no preferences.
  12. Be indifferent to where you live.
  13. Do not pursue the taste of good food.
  14. Do not hold on to possessions you no longer need.
  15. Do not act following customary beliefs.
  16. Do not collect weapons or practice with weapons beyond what is useful.
  17. Do not fear death.
  18. Do not seek to possess either goods or fiefs for your old age.
  19. Respect Buddha and the gods without counting on their help.
  20. You may abandon your own body but you must preserve your honour.
  21. Never stray from the way.



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