A New Approach to Teaching Entrepreneurship

The Greek philosopher Aristotle and the significance of 'first principles'

Aristotle is one of the greatest philosophers of all time, making significant contributions to the fields of ethics, logic, epistemology, and metaphysics. The concept of 'first principles' is one of the most effective strategies that can be used to solve complex problems and create original solutions.

Aristotle's method of 'first principles,' also known as the Aristotelian Method, focuses on understanding the causes and principles behind a phenomenon. This method is related to entrepreneurship in many ways:

- Problem Analysis: Entrepreneurship often requires the analysis of complex problems. Entrepreneurs must understand the roots of challenges and seek solutions.
- Stage-by-Stage Thinking: The Aristotelian Method promotes stage-by-stage thinking and the process of analysis. This is essential for generating innovative entrepreneurial ideas.
- Understanding Objectives: Entrepreneurs must understand their goals and the reasons behind them. Systematic analysis is linked to achieving entrepreneurial objectives.
- Ethical Consideration: The Aristotelian Method also involves considering ethical issues. Entrepreneurs must examine the ethical aspects of their business decisions.

Overall, the Aristotelian Method provides the structure and approach that can enhance entrepreneurial thinking and decision-making processes.

A "first principle" is a basic assumption that cannot be deduced any further. Over 2000 years ago, Aristotle defined the first principle as the "first basis" from which a thing is known.”


In theory, first-principles thinking requires you to dig deeper and deeper until you are left with only the foundational truths of a situation. French philosopher and scientist René Descartes embraced this approach, employing a method now called Cartesian Doubt. He would systematically doubt everything he could possibly doubt until he was left with what he saw as purely indubitable truths.

While the concept of first principles originated centuries ago, it still holds true today, and no one embodies the philosophy of 'First Principles' more effectively than entrepreneur Elon Musk. In fact, he applied the method to justify his venture for Tesla. The prevailing argument was, of course, that electric vehicles could never work because the cost of batteries was too high. This represents an analogy. The cost of batteries is high, therefore electric vehicles are not economically viable. Musk explains that by looking at the battery and thinking in terms of first principles, you quickly realize a new truth. By purchasing the individual parts of a battery separately and assembling the battery yourself, you can dramatically reduce the cost. By using first principles, he realized that the cost of batteries is not a barrier. He started with the basic elements of a battery and arrived at a very different solution. Take a look at the interview below:

The story of Tesla and batteries brings to the fore one of the benefits of first principles: the ability to deconstruct complex problems. First-principles allow us to take any idea, no matter the complexity, and break it down into its parts and then break those down further, until we get to the core building blocks.

While this process is not easy, it is valuable. You are able to see things from a different perspective that allows you to uncover solutions and approaches that were otherwise invisible.

We could benefit from first principles a lot if we think about it. From understanding why a startup is successful in making better career decisions to wrapping your head around politics. But that’s not where the value ends. First-principles are also incredibly useful when applied as a way to live your life.

written by JAMES CLEAR | MENTAL MODELS | Aly Juma