Elon Musk is a polarizing figure as of late. His views on the pandemic, his richest-man-on-Earth status, his very laissez-faire approach to the economy, his frequent shitposting on Twitter, his borderline cryptocurrency/stock market manipulation; nearly everything this guy does is wildly loved by some and despised by others with little in-between. Is he a demon from hell incarnate or humanities savior? Seriously, no discussion on Elon is ever remotely logical or sane.
Despite Elon not being the world’s most likeable person, I don’t think anyone should write the man off simply because they don’t like him as a person, especially because he’s a billionaire. No one is perfect, everyone has ways they are unlikeable, and the same goes for Elon Musk. You can learn all sorts of things from anyone and disregarding someone by how much money they have or whatever unlikeable thing about the guy doesn’t erase the fact that Elon gets shit done.
The man is insane in about the best way to be insane; he sets lofty and ridiculous goals that no one else would seriously pursue and somehow (mostly) does what he says. As an example, consider his company SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, the first orbital booster to land and be reused. His idea of landing a rocket was laughed at by every company in the rocketry business — no one ever seriously attempted rocket reuse — and now it’s a gamechanger in the launch market. The cheapest and most widely-flown ride to orbit in the past few years is the Falcon 9. Elon, as crazy as he is, gets shit done and of course you can learn a bunch from the guy.
Fail Fast and Iterate
Anyone in the blogging or creative space in general is well-aware that perfection is the enemy of creativity. You can easily get locked into the mindset that your work is not perfect enough to even begin — your idea is trash from the start — so you don’t even attempt your whatever you have in mind.
Elon, in his design philosophy on SpaceX’s new Starship/Super Heavy rocket, is making shoddy but quickly-built rockets just to get something physical to test on. They’re welding shit in a Texas field building the largest rocket ever built. Why? That’s not how rockets are traditionally built. It’s not ideal. It’s not perfect. But it’s getting shit done.
The idea is to try something quickly and cheaply, and see if it works. It probably won’t (Elon has said something like, “Every design is flawed, we just don’t know how flawed.”) but if it doesn’t work you fix the issue and move on. They’re making bold and rapid progress without trying to hit a home run on the first attempt. They’re pushing themselves knowing they’re going to fail and they’re not letting that hold them back. I think the mantra often cited in regards to SpaceX is Fail Fast and Fail Forward or something like that.
This lesson is stupidly applicable to life in general. I was scared of my recent supervisor promotion but I went into it knowing I’d suck. There’s no reason I shouldn’t suck. I’ve been embracing my suckiness and taking all the opportunities I can to iterate myself into something of a better person. It’s not so much failing that’s bad but failing and not learning anything that’s bad.
In short: stop worrying so much about perfection and just do something. Start. Make progress. Fix issues as you make progress.
Fuck the Sunk Cost Fallacy
Back to SpaceX’s Starship rocket again because it’s the embodiment of Elon Musk’s design philosophy. Years earlier it was a carbon fiber-based design. They poured massive amounts of work and investments into carbon fibers, only to be dropped in favor of stainless steel. Yes, stainless fucking steel. Where carbon fiber is lightweight, durable, cutting edge, fancy, and expensive, stainless steel is heavy, old, quick, dirty, and cheap. Was SpaceX really just pitching away carbon fiber for steel despite the heavy investments and work into the technology?
Yes, because steel was better in the long run! To Elon and his company, just because they’d planned for carbon fiber and really felt carbon fiber was the best, they weren’t married to the idea. I’m sure it sucked tossing away all the carbon fiber machinery they had and lost a bunch of money but they didn’t let that hold them back when a better way made itself known.
You might already know this as the sunk cost fallacy. If a better way appears, take it. Don’t think about how much time/effort/month you spend on some failed idea or plan or goal you’ve had. This does play into the previous lesson of Failing Fast and iterating. I don’t think you can disregard the sunk cost fallacy without acknowledging the power of failing fast and learning; they do go hand in hand.
Know when to quit, know when to give up, know when you’ve been thoroughly beaten, and know when to direct your efforts into something more effective.
During an interview with YouTuber Tim Dodd (the Everyday Astronaut) I was surprised by how many times Elon basically answered, “Were not worried about that now,” to Tim’s many questions. Elon was focused solely on making a rocket that could get to orbit. That was the only goal he had and every other goal would come after that. It was surprising to see Elon so laser-focused on his one primary goal before anything else could happen. It’s like alternatives didn’t even exist in his mind.
The NASA’s moon Starship? Disregarded until they make orbit. Full and rapid rocket reuse? Disregarded until orbit. A cargo bay for the rocket? Nope. Not worried about it now. Life support for human? We’ll work on it in the future. Earth to earth transportation? Nope. Fuel transfer and orbital refueling? Nah, not right now.
If you heard this from any other CEO you might be skeptical, like they didn’t actually have a plan and were only covering their asses under the guise of prioritizing. Not with Elon; they guy was focused on the next step that had to happen before other problems could be tackled and it seemed more like a perfect example of pure prioritization than side-stepping questions.
And I think many of us get dragged down into the mud when planning any sort of big project. As a painter you need to buy canvas and paint before you even worry about what to actually paint. Bloggers, we need to have a functional blog and basic writing skills before we’re raking in advertisement money or sponsorships. It does help progress if you can take a big and messy project/goal and break it down into a series of steps. Sure, many steps are concurrent, but there certainly is an overarching prioritization to nearly everything.
Public Speaking and Charisma: Who Need ‘Em?
Elon Musk seems to be a larger than life figure with a whole mystique around him which totally shatters anytime you actually hear the man speak. Elon is hilariously bad at public speaking! He stutters and stammers frequently, cracks nerdy jokes that no one seems to understand, occasionally uses dark humor to prove his points, and has about zero charisma while on stage. When speaking he seems like an awkward high school nerd trying to give a presentation that he has to do but desperately wants it to be over so he can go home and build his model rockets or something.
But damn if that isn’t refreshing to see from someone so successful. Despite his utter lack of charisma and public speak skills — he’s not a natural leader who can get people to follow him by “being cool” — Elon gets shit done. He helped build Tesla into a household name and playing a key role in making electric cars desirable, and is in charge of the most bold and radical rocket company that has ever existed. None of that is hyperbole and I’d hope Elon’s biggest detractors can at least acknowledge those two things about him.
So no matter how God-awful you are with public speak or how little natural charisma you have, there’s nerdy and awkward Elon musk to guide you. He’s awful — you almost have to have better stage-presence than he does — but if he can do big things in life surely you can. Not to say everyone can be as successful as Musk has been, but definitely don’t let public speaking hold you back from your goals and dreams!
As for Elon’s less desirable traits, lets not get into that here. I think the guy really can teach you things that you can use in your own life and that can help you accomplish your goals in a quicker and more focused manor. The guy isn’t perfect, some would say he’s a downright Bad Person, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from him.
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