The prime-time news and the first page headlines of reputed national newspapers and the gossiping internet forums and the geeky silicon valley blogs have bombarded us with Elon Musk. They scrutinized the guy first for his electronic money transfer system (Paypal), then for his electric cars (Tesla), then for his rockets and space stations (SpaceX), and then for solar energy (SolarCity).
But I felt I still knew nothing about the silicon valley tycoon who manufactures rockets and cars in one of the most expensive places on earth aka Silicon Valley. So to know more about the real-life Iron Man, I read his biography Elon Musk: How the Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is Shaping our Future by Ashlee Vance.
Ashlee published a what seems to be an honest account of Elon Musk’s childhood, youth, and after-life. He led us into his growing up years with a difficult father, who allowed him to blow rockets in the garage, and a mother, whose parents flew over the world without any aerial maps or instruments, into his youth where he scraped through Canada and then founded X.com(now PayPal), into marrying and divorcing thrice and raising five children, and into establishing historic electric cars, rockets, and solar companies.
While the world doubts whether Elon would be able to establish humans on multiple planets or he is just a hoax — something is for sure. For someone who started with almost no money in Canada at the age of seventeen and made his way by cutting wood and working at boilers, he has come a long way. His net worth is more than $20 billion, and he is estimated to be the wealthiest man (on earth) in the next 7-8 years. All while never focusing on the money — he earns money to put it back in his ideas and dreams and businesses. He works for what he finds meaningful.
Musk must be doing something right as the five times cheaper and reusable SpaceX rocket, having supplied the international space station, launches back safely on a platform on the Atlantic and the Tesla owners sleep peacefully while their cars are being upgraded to the latest features.
Let’s learn from the best.
1. Work on your goals. Not on others’ —
Musk didn’t know that he needed to pass the school subjects to move onto the next grade, so he instead played video games, read books, and wrote software. He asked the point behind scoring A in a subject he didn’t care about.
We want to earn millions, buy a bigger fridge, buy more branded jeans and dresses, then a bigger wardrobe to keep those impulsive buys, and then make more money to keep this lifestyle going on. What for? Most of my batch mates did MBA or MS or Ph.D. Some of them were genuinely interested in the education, but the rest was just following those passionate ones.
We quickly fall for what others are doing under the fear of losing out or jealousy or peer pressure. But staying away from these distractions isn’t that hard.
Find the subjects of life in which you want to score well. Think about what do you want for yourself and the world. Then realize your deliverables and goals out of those desires and purposes. Rest is someone else’s problem.
Rather than plodding along with the herd, peak around. Maybe some other mud path leads to the brow of the mountain, where the grass is crisper and suits your mellow taste.
Also Read: What is the Meaning of Life
Image Source: Wikipedia
2. Work and life are extensions of each other —
Given the common work definition, we work almost 90,000 hours in our lifetime.
Then why do we keep work as a seclusive part of our life? Why do we talk about it with knitted brows?
Elon shuttles between Los Angeles and California and Tesla and SpaceX and parties and kids. Some people critique that he has no concept of work-life balance. But to do things on such a large scale, to be able to take on the world, you cannot work from 9-5. If you honestly believe in the impact of your work, it would seep into all the pores of your existence.
That doesn’t mean you don’t have a life. That means you prefer it that way. And there is nothing wrong with that.
I write more sincerely now. I have always observed people around me. I highlight new words. While watching movies with friends, I even critique the movies for their weak stories. I read Kindle on the toilet. I try to harness every experience into my writing, to make it real.
Apply what you learned from work into life and vice-versa. Let the two become extensions of each other. You would work and live better.
And that could be the difference between you and the rest.
3. You can do anything — Period.
You would naturally choose things as per your flavor. You might have picked up designing. Your friend might like product management. Elon picked up cars and rockets and space stations.
Quoting his biography – “Musk hones a trademark style of entering an ultra-complex business and not letting the fact that he knew very little about the industry’s nuances bother him in the slightest.”
Elon started as a novice but studied everything about his hardcore passions. People who worked with him said that he knew more than the experts. Because he read and read and built on the knowledge of the experts. His photogenic memory and wit to recall things at the right time helped. But we all have got talents to back us up.
You are only a novice because you have a colorful experience of something else. Instead of pondering on your novice-ness, go on. Learn. Let the best teachers — time, experience, and books — teach you.
If you honestly want something, focus on the process of learning, and work hard, you can achieve it.
4. Say either yes or no —
Elon’s decision making powers proved to be one of his strongest abilities while he built a massive business empire.
Your choice can’t be anything in between. I have delayed taking decisions, ignoring what I wanted, while in the end coming back to what I desired, and then making my way from there.
Indecisiveness drags you behind. Don’t let fear come in between. Decide and then deal with the anxiety.
Think about it — we just have to decide and do it.
Also Read: 30 Life Lessons I Learned in My 20’s
5. Look at things as they are. Drill to the core of the problem —
Clutched in the claws of prior human experience, we don’t look at the reality or problems as standalone problems. We look at them with our spectacles that have been dusted with human experience.
A story of Larry Page from the biography — “When Page and Sergey Brin pondered over ways to search the text inside books, all of the experts said that it would be impossible to digitize every book. The Google co-founders then ran the numbers to see if it was actually physically possible to scan all books in a reasonable amount of time. They concluded it was, and Google has since scanned millions of books. “I’ve learned that your intuition about things you don’t know that much about isn’t very good,” Page said.”
Look at the problems as problems to be solved and not as fire-breathing dragons. Even if billions of people concluded that —“it can’t be done” or “people have been doing it this way” or “that is insane” or “would take millions of years” or “is too costly and risky” — they might be wrong, unless you try, and prove that it can’t be.
Like Einstein, spend time defining the problem. Apply the right sciences. Calculate. Then you would see solutions unfold in front of you. Conclude.
Apples had been falling for a long time, but it was Newton (or disputably Aryabhatta) who found the gravitational force pulling them. Though people had doubted him till then.
Everything is done the first time. Remember — Almost all problems have solutions.
Image Source: Wikipedia
6. Have a strong resolve —
Elon is said to be a stubborn person. Everyone, even the experts, told Elon that his ideas about reducing the rocket prices to one-fifth or making them reusable wouldn’t work. But he had done his research and didn’t believe anyone, until they proved it to him, or were, mostly, proven wrong. If employees couldn’t deliver something, they had to justify the numbers and the science behind. Subjective essays didn’t work. Back-up plans were mandatory.
What is wrong with being sure even if you appear stubborn and egoistic? People come up with all sorts of negative and prejudiced advice. Most of them are mostly never right. And if they are, they can stand up for what they think is right. If they couldn’t, they were excusing themselves off work.
Do your research. Know the details. Don’t take no for an answer unless someone lay out the right logical reasons.
Ask the right questions — let people give the right answers.
7. Don’t take shortcuts —
You might end up on an even longer path.
To build a lighter Tesla Model S, Elon decided that the body of the car should be made of lightweight aluminum instead of steel.
The solution was not to say it can’t be done or achieve the same goal with something flimsy. Tesla understood the intricacies and built the model S with aluminum. I can hire a superstar ghostwriter or advertise, instead, I prefer just to write.
Shortcuts are shortcuts. They sound nice when we hike up a mountain. But not when we are putting in our sweat and blood.
Build from scratch, if you have to. Don’t compromise on the quality of your deliverable to save time or money. Otherwise, your house would shake when an unexpected storm hits.
8. Kill distractions —
Though Elon believes in solar and renewable energy, he only has a partnership with the solar company SolarCity and doesn’t run it actively.
While working and editing these articles, I have to remember that even though I am at home, I can do the laundry later as it is not as important. Even such tiny decisions matter.
Consciously choose what is essential and what can suffer.
Don’t try to do it all.
9. Even the so-called mundane or not-so-important/minor work could be significant —
“Musk interviewed almost every one of SpaceX’s first one thousand hires, including the janitors and technicians.” Most of those early executives have hung on for a decade or more.
While I used to code for a big investment bank, even one missing alphabet could break the entire code, thus breaking the traders’ systems, and resulting in a loss of millions, within a few seconds.
The most mundane or seemingly unimportant fragments of your work could be the cement holding the bigger bricks together.
10. Right communication is like a hammer to the hot iron —
When the petrified employees went to Elon with new plans and explained the reasoning behind those modified plans, he just said okay to the shocked loyals.
But when the employees were restless that SpaceX wasn’t going public, Elon promptly sent an email. In this thorough email, he dwelled upon every tiny detail of why he wasn’t making SpaceX public and how it would affect the shareholders and the employees.
Decide when to speak and when to stay quiet. Exhaustively dwell upon the important and leave the insignificant. This rule applies to every aspect of our life.
Precisely communicating to the right people at the right time is like hammering the red-hot iron into a desirable shape.
11. Family impacts you more significantly than you think. Create the best one —
Elon’s maternal grandparents flew a simple plane for 30,000 miles from Africa to Australia without any instruments and with roadmaps and that too wrong ones; they avoided many accidents. The risk-taking and fearless attitude have been passed onto younger generations.
As parents, our duty is not just to encourage our children to become their best versions but also to improve and become ours. Instead of scaring them or being scared for them, show them that the world isn’t that scary. And even if it is, we need to fight. Not hide.
Image Source: Wikipedia
12. Last but not the least — If you are into something, be in it totally —
Quoting Navid Farooq, Elon’s friend, from the autobiography — “When Elon gets into something, he develops just this different level of interest in it than other people. That is what differentiates Elon from the rest of humanity.”
Be in it like no-one else would be. And then no-one can stop you from becoming the master of that one thing.
Don’t just give your hundred percent. Give all that you got.
Let us adopt some of the work ethics of the guy who wakes up dreaming about a fully-functional colony on Mars while a rocket from earth is on its way to provide supplies.
Which one of these lessons from Elon’s life strikes you the most?
*Note: The Amazon link to the book mentioned in this post is an affiliate link; if you choose to click through and buy the book, I will earn a little bit at no extra cost to you. It is entirely up to you if you decide to make the purchase.