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11 Lessons from Elon Musk

11 Lessons from Elon Musk

Elon Musk is the most famous engineer alive today, is the inspiration behind the modern image of “Iron Man”, and is responsible for running five companies (Tesla, SpaceX, Solar City, The Boring Company, Neurolink). There is a lot that we can learn from him. His original highlights include selling a videogame at age 12, double majoring at UPenn, co-founding Zip2 and selling for $307M in 1991, and co-founding PayPal and selling for $1.5B to eBay. This final success left him with $180M after taxes, and Tesla / SpaceX / Solar City were born after that.

Everyone told Musk he was crazy, he’d lose all his money, and none of the ventures would be successful. Tesla had a rough start, SpaceX had three rocket explosions (including a live payload lose), and Solar City began when solar panels were no where near as cool as they are today. But all three survived. Elon is famous for his futuristic vision, work ethic, and his ability to create a team to literally accomplish anything. Here are the top 11 lessons from Elon Musk!

1.Never Give Up
During a 60 Minutes interview with Scott Pelley, Musk was asked:

“When you had that third [rocket] failure in a row, did you think, “I need to pack this in?”
“Never.”
“Why not?
“I don’t ever give up. I mean, I’d have to be, dead or completely incapacitated.“

2. Work Hard
During his USC Marshall School of Business Commencement address in 2014, Musks provided a preview into his view on what “hard work” really is:

“When my brother and I were starting up our first company, instead of getting an apartment, we just rented a small office, and we slept on the couch. We showered at the YMCA, and we were so poor, we had just one computer, so the website was up during the day, and I was coding at night. Seven days a week, all the time. And I sort of briefly had a girlfriend in that period, and in order to be with me, she had to sleep in the office. Work hard every waking hour. If you do simple math, like somebody else is working 50 hours, and you’re working 100, you’ll get twice as much done in the course of a year as the other person.”

3. Have Passion for your Work
During a BBC interview with Jeremy Clarkson, Elon tells us what get him excited:

“You want to do projects that are inspiring, and that make people excited about the future. Life’s got to be about more than solving projects. You have to get up in the morning and say “Yes, I’m looking forward to that thing happening.”

4. Have Confidence
In order to instill trust, belief, and utmost confidence in our team, we must provide the highest level of conviction when we communicate our views. Elon expands idea this during a Business Insider interview:

“Really believe in what you are doing, but not just from a blind faith standpoint. To have really thought about it and say okay, this is true, I’m convinced it’s true, and I’ve tried every angle to figure out if it’s untrue, and sought negative feedback to figure out if I’m maybe wrong, and after all that, okay it still seems this is the right way to go. then that I think gives one a fundamental conviction and an ability to convey that conviction to others.”

5. Take Risks
The USC business class of 2014 receive more amazing words from Elon. It’s often stated the biggest risk in life is not taking any risks. Elon expresses his view on the matter:

“Now is the time to take risks. You don’t have kids, but as you get older, your obligations increase. And once you have a family, you start taking risks not only for yourself, but for your family as well. It gets much harder to do things that might not work out. So now is the time to do that, before you have those obligations. So I would encourage you to take risks now. Do something bold. You won’t regret it.”

6. Be Inspired
While on stage with Chris Anderson during TED Vancouver, Elon tells us what inspires him:

“I think it’s important to have a future that’s inspiring an appealing, I mean… I just think that there have to be reasons to get up in the morning, and you want to live. Like, why do you want to live? What’s the point, what inspires you? What do you love about the future? And if we’re not out there, if the future does not include being out there among the stars, and being a multi planet species, I find that incredibly depressing, if that’s not the future we’re going to have.”

7. Add Value
Elon famously said when he was younger, there were five problems that he thought were most important to work on. For the record, those were “the internet; sustainable energy; space exploration, in particular the permanent extension of life beyond Earth; artificial intelligence; and reprogramming the human genetic code”. The Y Combinator founder Sam Altman asks Elon:

“If you were 22 today, what five problems would you want to work on?”

“I think if somebody is doing something that is useful to the rest of society, I think that’s a good thing. It doesn’t have to change the world. You know. If you’re doing something that has high value to people, um, and frankly, even if it’s something like um, just a little game um, or you know, some improvement in photo sharing. If it has a small amount of good for a large number of people, that’s, I think that’s fine. Stuff doesn’t need to be changing the world just to be good.”

8. Deploy “First Principles”
Digg founder Kevin Rose interviewed Elon for Foundation, where he asks about his problem solving approach:

“I think it’s also important to reason from “First Principles” rather than by analogy. So the normal way that we conduct our lives is we reason by analogy. We’re doing this because, “it’s like something else that was done” or “it’s like other people are doing”. Me too type ideas. Yeah. It’s like, slight permutations, on a theme. And uh, and it’s, kind of mentally easier to reason by analogy rather than through first principles, but first principles is sort of a physics way of looking at the world. And what that really means is, you kind of boil things down to the most fundamental truths. And say, okay what’re we sure is true, or as sure as possible is true, and then reason up from there.”

9. You Can Learn Anything

Another stellar moment during his 60 Minutes interviwe, Elon reveals how he is qualified to be CTO of SpaceX. His response may shock you, however, it’s quite revealing as to what you can accomlish if you believe in yourself:

Scott Pelley: “How did you get the expertise to be the Chief Technology Officer of a rockship company?”
Musk: “Well, I do have a physics background, let’s helpful as a foundation, um and then I read a lot of books and talked to a lot of smart people.”
Scott Pelley: “You’re self taught?!?!”
Musk: “Yeah. Well self taught meaning, I don’t have an aerospace degree.”
Scott Pelley: “So how did you go about acquiring the knowledge?”
Elon: “Well, like I said, I read a lot of books, and talked to a lot of people, and have a great team…”

10. Be Ambitious, Don’t Worry about Money
During an INC Magazine interview, VC Steve Jurvetson asks Elon about the source of his ambition. Elon responds with a very insightful story:

“When I started the first internet company, Zip2, with my brother and another person, Greg Curry, it wasn’t really with the thought of being wealthy. I have nothing against being wealthy, it was just from the standpoint of wanting to be part of the internet. I figured if we could make enough money to just get by, that would be okay. When we started off, we literally only had one computer, so it would be our web server during the day, and I’d be coding at night. And we just got a small office, in Palo Alto back when rent was not insane, um, and it cost us like $350 a month. It was cheaper than an apartment, so we just slept in the office, and then showered at the YMCA on Page Mill & El Camino. So we’d walk over there and shower.”

11. Think Big, Change the World
During a CNN interview with Fareed Zakaria, Elon was asked about his vision to turn the human race a multi-planetary species:

“So the first order of business is to figure out how to get there, and it needs to be, in a way that enables large numbers of people and cargo. It can’t just be like a handful of people, because that’s obviously not going to create a self sustaining civilization. An Apollo was an amazing inspiring thing for all of humanity, but the last time we went to the moon was like 1973 or 4 I believe, so, we don’t want to just have flags and footprints, and then never go to Mars again. If we just have one mission, that will also be a super inspiring thing, but it’s not going to fundamentally change the future of humanity.”

These quotes are compiled into a video here: 11 Lessons from Elon Musk

Author:
Jake Voorhees
1% Engineer



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