Elon Musk is a huge fan of First Principles Thinking.
Here is how you can problem solve like Elon:
1. Ignore the trend.
2. Do not think by analogy. For example, the horse-drawn carriage. If we thought by analogy, we’d just have a more advanced carriage vs. a car.
3. Boil the problem down to its fundamental truths/assumptions. How you define the problem is the most important step. Question your current assumptions – break these down further. Be critical. Otherwise, junk in, junk out!
4. Find a new direction. Create your solution based on these fundamental truths as your foundation. Imagine, iterate, and reason different outcomes and possibilities. This is rethinking the problem from the ground up.
5. Be exploratory and non-linear. Ask lots of questions (“why” 5x over). Nothing is off-bounds as long as the fundamental truths remain satisfied.
6. Know that this may not feel like a natural way of thinking first, and the process is slow and thorough. Fight any discomfort, cognitive biases, heuristics (mental shortcuts), or impatience when thinking in this way.
7. An example: you have a match, candle, and two steel rings. How would you join the two rings using only the candle and the match?
The fundamentals: the candle is made up of the wick (or, EHEM, string) and wax.