The First Principles

When Elon Musk  and his team were trying to estimate how much the first SpaceX rockets would cost, they could have just looked at the products on the market. Instead, they figured out what the necessary parts of a rocket are and then found out how much the raw materials of those parts would cost. The result was startling – SpaceX could build a rocket for about 2% of the typical price.

Elon Musk’s approach to solving problems is to always start with the first principles. He says that often we go with analogies  – “They did it this way OR nobody has done it yet”. But with first principles, he boils it down to fundamentals – the first principles. What are the physics of it? How much time with it take? How much will it cost? Why will it not be possible?

Ashlee Vance mentions how Musk wanted to revamp the very idea of the automobile and build an energy network at the same time with a budget equivalent to what Ford and ExxonMobil spend on their annual holiday parties. Or how similarly SpaceX created avionics parts at the cost of the food at meetings about the cost of avionics parts at traditional firms. Similar stories were shared by Sergey Brin & Larry Page when they first started with Google and people said it was impossible, but they worked out the numbers and figured it could be done. As Larry Page quotes “Good Ideas are always crazy until they are not”. 

When you start with a large task or challenge – conventional wisdom usually answers that it is not possible to solve such a challenge. However, if you were to work out the basics and the numbers underlying the challenge – it is often doable. Next time you hear something like “Thats how it is” – try switching to first principles.


Toastmasters Opening Addresses

At the Toastmasters club in office, I’ve been giving opening addresses at the weekly meetings. I promised some colleagues that I’d start keeping a record of these,so to catch up here are the last 5.


When was the last time you complained about something? OK- what did you complain about yesterday? (Someone said computers). Great. When did you last say something good about your computer? (the audience didn’t have much to say).

I recently listened to Mahatria talk about a similar case. He said, when something bad happens we complain and tell many people. But when something good happens, we dont talk about it much. His challenge was for us to not talk about the bad with anybody and also talk about the good to atleast 5 people.

So if you didn’t find today’s meeting useful, please don’t tell anyone. But if you enjoyed yourself, liked the positive environment and thought you would learn something – go tell other people.

How heavy is the glass of water?

How heavy is a glass of water? ( answers started with depends to glass specifics and settled on a few grams). Great. So how hard is it to hold that glass of water? (not very). Ok how about holding it for a minute? (ok can do) How about an hour? (my hands may pain)

Well thats the point – don’t hold too many things in your head. If you need to discuss them, please do. Don’t keep them stuck in your head, you’ll feel much better if you just discussed them. It’s ok to ask for help and if you need a pair of ears to listen- you know where to find me. Have a lovely weekend!


The Barclays Singapore Toastmasters Club hosted its humorous and evaluation contest yesterday. After the contest I received a flood of whatsapp messages about what happened and how it compared to previous year contests. I felt like I was there and I felt happy for everyone. That’s also when I realised that they all reached out to tell me about it and helped me feel like I was still a part of that club. It meant that actually, they were behaving more like a family and less like just a club. I realised that I was part of the family.

Given tomorrow is Rakshabandhan tomorrow – we should aim to build a family here too, a community of brothers and sisters who will help each other grow. I don’t know how we can get there, but I know that families always have something to eat. So as a first step, I’ve brought chocolates for all of us. I will place it in the Members’ corner and hope we can share some food each week. Here’s to the Barclays Pune Toastmasters family. Happy Rakshabandhan.

The underdog

Have you heard of underdogs? Who are they? (some answers). Ya I guess its like Kenya in a cricket match. The beauty of underdogs is that we love them and want them to succeed. Yatharth wrote about underdogs recently and posed an important question. He asks if you back the ultimate underdog – yourself? Did you back yourself? Did you give yourself a chance?

I know many of you have come here to develop your communication skills. Don’t wait. You can be a better version of yourself. All it takes is for you to give yourself a chance- to use this platform, to start speaking and to start growing. Please let me know how I can help you. Wishing you the best.

STAR and Deliberate Practice 

This opening address was a 15 minute segment – behaving as a combination of an educational segment and an opening address. There were 2 main components:

  1. People wrote stories and we analysed the stories with the STAR framework, checked if stories can be improved and discussed how such frameworks make it easier for us to communicate:
    • S – Setting – What is the backdrop? (Crow was thirsty)
    • T – Target – What was the protagonist looking to achieve? (Crow wanted to drink the water in the bottom of a pot)
    • A – Action – What did the protagonist do? (Crow dropped stones)
    • R – Result – What happened? (Crow drank water)
  2. The biggest stars built their skills on deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is best described using the routines sportsmen use – they practice a particular routine over and over again  as opposed to gameplay. Yet at work, we are only engaged in gameplay – never consciously practicing skills. One way to do the latter is to use specific frameworks and analyse ourselves. So you can use the STAR framework to see if you are communicating effectively at work. In crunch situations another useful framework is the “Situation-Complication-Response” model. Ex: “The application has broken down, there is nobody in the office to fix it and so I will do XYZ”

So become conscious about what you say and be deliberate. Look for ways to improve it and your communication will also improve tremendously. Use things like the STAR framework, and start communicating like a STAR. Good luck.