Here's a great post by Skellie that dissects Elon Musk's approach to disruptive innovation, which is based on reasoning from first principles.

I had an MBA group come in to visit ShareThis yesterday, and we were talking about how to create really disruptive innovation. I realized today when I saw this post that reasoning from first principles puts into words what I've gutturally felt to be true: That really disruptive innovation happens when looking at a problem from a completely new angle.

Skellie quotes Musk as saying:

"I think it’s important to reason from first principles rather than by analogy. The normal way we conduct our lives is we reason by analogy. We are doing this because it’s like something else that was done, or it is like what other people are doing. Slight iterations on a theme."

The nice thing about Musk's approach is that it provides a framework with which to do this. Breaking a problem down to its core components and then building back up from there with a fresh perspective often helps us arrive at very different conclusions than established approaches.

The other really nice benefit of reasoning from first principles is that it can get you out of the "it can't be done" mentality -- whether yours or someone else's. And that's especially handy when you're debating an idea with someone. If they are reasoning by analogy and you can break a problem down to its core first principles, then you have a way to say "If all of these things are true, then it can be done, we just haven't figured out how yet." And that is a solvable problem with enough intense passion, focus & iteration.

Do you have examples of fresh approaches to problems that have come by reasoning from first principles? If so, I'd love to hear about them.