“It had taken Elon Musk less than a decade to go from being a Canadian backpacker to becoming a multimillionaire at the age of twenty-seven.” – Ashlee Vance
The guy created what we know today as PayPal when no one was even thinking about buying anything on the internet. He created an electric car when everyone was laughing at the idea and thinking it was impossible. He is now sending rockets to the space AND BACK and building tunnels for future fast underground transportation.
He lives at least a few decades ahead of everyone else and proves the saying “It all seems crazy and impossible until it is done” very true.
All the quotes here are from the book, which definitely deserves “must read” etiquette. Vance’s style is interesting and clear and he manages to portray Musk from many different perspectives.
Based on everything I have read and watched about Elon, here are few lessons we can all learn from:
1. Don’t limit yourself only to what already exists
Many successful people have built their business and fortune on copying what other successful people did. It is universally acknowledged truth – if someone else can do it, I can do it too. What succeeded in one country and can be implemented in another, will succeed there as well. If Musk was watching what others were saying or doing, we would not have Tesla today, nor Space X nor Pay Pal etc.
“Had anyone from Detroit stopped by Tesla Motors at this point, they would have ended up in hysterics. The sum total of the company’s automotive expertise was that a couple of the guys at Tesla really liked cars and another one had created a series of science fair projects based on technology that the automotive industry considered ridiculous. What’s more, the founding team had no intention of turning to Detroit for advice on how to build a car company. No, Tesla would do what every other Silicon Valley start-up had done before it, which was hire a bunch of young, hungry engineers and figure things out as they went along. Never mind that the Bay Area had no real history of this model ever having worked for something like a car and that building a complex, physical object had little in common with writing a software application. What Tesla did have, ahead of anyone else, was the realization that 18650 lithium ion batteries had gotten really good and were going to keep getting better. Hopefully that coupled with some effort and smarts would be enough.”
2. Don’t do things just because “it was done like that before”
If something was done in a certain way before doesn’t mean that it is the right, the best or the only way it can be done.
“If you told him that you made a particular choice because it was the standard way things had always been done, he’d kick you out of a meeting fast.”
“When we first talked about the touch-screen, the guys came back and said, “There’s nothing like that in the automotive supply chain,” Musk said. “I said, I know. That’s because it’s never been put in a fucking car before.”
3. There is no substitute for work. A lot of hard work. Maybe too much hard work.
Musk is known for working 18 hours per day 7 days per week. He has certain days assigned for different companies he runs. He often slept at the office and worked for as long as it was needed to get everything done and get out of crisis, which is also what he expects of his employees in difficult situations:
“He gave a speech, saying we would work on Saturdays and Sundays and sleep under desks until it get done. Someone pushed back from the table and argued that everyone had been working so hard just to get the car done, and they were ready for a break and to see their families. Elon said, I would tell those people they will get to see their families a lot when we go bankrupt.”
4. Believe in miracles and they will happen… after a lot of work and effort
Dreams mean nothing unless you do the work. When you work a lot, you become what seems to others – very lucky and the solutions shows up…
“Ryan Popple, who had spent four years in the army and then gotten an MBA from Harward, arrived at Tesla as director of finance meant to prep the company to go public. After examining the company’s books early in his tenure, Pople asked the manufacturing and operations head exactly how he would get the car made. “He said, Well, we will decide we’re going into production and then a miracle is going to happen,” Popple said.”
“History has demonstrated that while Musk’s goals can sound absurd in the moment, he certainly believes in them and, when given enough time, tends to achieve them. “He always works from a different understanding of reality than the rest of us,” Ankenbrandt said, “He is just different than the rest of us.”
5. Don’t compromise high standards
“We have to decide what is the best sun visor in the world and then do better.” Musk said.
“What separated Tesla from the competition was the willingness to charge after its vision without compromise, a complete commitment to execute to Musk’s standards.”
“Inside of Tesla, attempts were repeatedly made to talk Musk out of the aluminium body, but he would not budge, seeing it as the only rational choice. It would be up to the Tesla team to figure out how to make the aluminium manufacturing happen. “We knew it could be done,” Musk said. “It was a question of how hard it would be and how long it would take us to sort it out.”
6. Set optimistic deadlines and work hard to do the impossible
Always set high expectation from yourself and others. That way everyone will work harder to deliver what’s expected. It has been said that the less time you have, more things you can achieve. Musk’s time management skills are impressive. Not only time management but also ability to work hard for so many hours completely focused on the task and switch fast between tasks and businesses.
“In regards to time, Musk may well set more aggressive delivery targets for very difficult-to-make products than any executive in history. “Elon has always been optimistic” Brogan said. “That’s the nice word. He can be a downright liar about when things need to get done. He will pick the most aggressive time schedule imaginable assuming everything goes right, and then accelerate it by assuming that everyone work harder.”
He doesn’t say “You have to do this by Friday at two PM” Brogan said. “He says, I need the impossible done by Friday at two PM. Can you do it?” Then, when you say yes, you are not working hard because he told you to. You are working hard for yourself. It’s a distinction you can feel. You have signed up to do your own work.”
“I may have been optimistic with respect to the timing on some of these things, but I didn’t overpromise on the outcome”. – Musk
7. Don’t waste your money. Invest it.
Robert Kiosaki is teaching in his books I wrote about in this blog post that rich people always invest money into active assets. They don’t buy clothes and bunch of unnecessary things but first invest into something that will bring more income.
“Instead of hanging around Silicon Valley and falling into the same fund as his peers, however, Musk decamped to Los Angeles. The conventional wisdom of the time said to take a deep breath and wait for the next big thing to arrive in due course. Musk rejected that logic by throwing $100 million into SpaceX, $70 million into Tesla, and $10 million into SolarCity. Short of building an actual money-crushing machine, Musk could not have picked a faster way to destroy his fortune. He became a one-man, ultra-risk-taking venture capital shop and doubled down on making super-complex physical goods in two of the most expensive places in the world, Los Angeles and Silicon Valley. Whenever possible, Musk’s companies would make things from scratch and try to rethink much that the aerospace, automotive and solar industries had accepted as convention.”
Who are you learning from?
Let me ask you a question I got recently: