This is the beginning of a series that will detail three ways in which famous entrepreneurs, inventors, and world-changing people set themselves apart from the crowd, in the hopes that you can benefit from their techniques in your own life.
“When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.” — Elon Musk
Elon Musk is 46 years old, and was born in Pretoria, South Africa. He is a co-founder of PayPal, founder of SpaceX, and co-founder of Tesla Inc., among others. In 2016 he launched Neuralink, aimed to create implantable computer/brain interfaces, and The Boring Company, anticipated to revolutionize travel through the invention of the “Hyperloop”. His current net worth, as estimated by Forbes, is $20.9 billion.
Since Musk was young, he has been actively exploring every interest to the point of near obsession. From comic books, to the sciences, to his first computer — a Commodore VIC-20 — he has jumped into each task headfirst with unbridled passion.
When, as a child, he decided to learn BASIC, he completed a 6 month training manual in a mere 3 days — with no sleep. He would also read for hours on end. This all-in approach to learning is one of the key aspects of his success.
When determining a new project, Musk not only does a lot of the research himself, he asks the experts of the field for input.
In the case of the Hyperloop, he created multiple Twitter feeds and inspired competition to come up with the best solution. Musk admits when he doesn’t know something, and enjoys working with the best minds to solve hard problems.
“I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better. I think that’s the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.” — Elon Musk
Musk is, at heart, a dreamer. The most influential book in his young life, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” dramatically changed the way he looked at the world. He realized that the toughest thing in life is figuring out what questions to ask. He believes that once you have the right question, the answer is relatively easy. This type of thinking has led him to create both Tesla Inc. and SpaceX.
Musk is not shy about his feelings on climate change and the current state of the environment. When faced with the difficult question about how to ensure the future of humanity, he made his main focus extraterrestrial colonization.
A major limiting factor in the expansion of the human race to other worlds is the cost of travel. Rockets are extremely expensive and single-use. So, as this was a major roadblock to an indisputable issue, he resolved to solve it by creating reusable rockets. SpaceX solved this problem on December 21st, 2015 by landing a used rocket on a launchpad in Cape Canaveral.
Meanwhile, Tesla Inc. is working to ensure the survival of Earth for future generations through the introduction of fully electric cars. The advancements made through battery production spurred by Tesla has revolutionized the car industry, forcing other automakers to develop fully electric vehicles as well.
Neuralink, one of Musk’s most recent projects, is aimed at “developing ultra high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers”. In typical Musk fashion, he put out an open invitation for exceptional engineers and scientists passionate about this mission to join his team. In fact, he states that a neuroscience background is not required, but that “talent and drive matter far more”. This ability to inspire others and assemble great teams to solve the currently unsolvable is what sets him apart. He doesn’t just dream about the future — he actually intends to create the future.
Despite recognizing problems that seem daunting in their scale, Musk is unwavering in his belief that he can create change in the world.
“People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.” — George Bernard Shaw
Things have been hard for Musk throughout his life. From a self-described unhappy childhood, to being part of three disruptive companies, there have been many people along the way who believed he would fail.
Since the incorporation of Tesla Motors, Musk has had issues with timely deliveries of vehicles. Many believed that this would eventually ruin the company. But his vision of a clean fuel future led him persevere in the face of cynics. He continues to work to ensure that his vision is realized and electric cars are the standard on the road. And with Tesla Inc. focusing on larger projects such as solar and electric energy, Musk seems poised to make his ideal future a reality.
Despite all the difficulties SpaceX had with successfully landing a used rocket on a target, they eventually succeeded. The world watched while nine rockets were destroyed over the course of five years while trying to figure out the proper way to land. But Musk and his team did not give up. Their belief in themselves, and the importance of their mission, forced them to continue.
The Boring Company, Musk’s initiative to begin construction of his Hyperloop, has been fraught with criticism since the announcement of his initial plan. Many believed that permits and the cost of construction would be a non-starter. Others believed that the laws of induced demand will keep the Hyperloop from solving any real issues. But in June of 2017, The Boring Company broke ground in Los Angeles, and in October it was announced that a tunnel between Baltimore and Washington D.C would begin construction in January of this year.
Musk’s tenacity to see his future come to life seems never-ending. Throughout all of his life he was told that his ideas, while interesting, couldn’t be accomplished. His determination to see it through, in spite of all the odds, is key to his success.
“Persistence is very important. You should not give up unless you are forced to give up.” — Elon Musk
- ABL — Always Be Learning. The world is a large place, with many interesting things. Find something interesting outside of your current focus and pick up a book on it, or read scholarly articles online to learn more about it. Not only may you find a new hobby or career, but you’ll become a more well-rounded and interesting person.
- Don’t be afraid to tackle your big problems. Everyone has things in their life that they want to accomplish, but they feel as though they’re not cut out to do so. You may feel as though you’re not good enough. First, ask the right question. Second, develop an answer. Third, use the bullet point above to learn about how to work towards the answer you developed. Remember — if you ask the right question, the answer is relatively easy.
- Don’t quit just because things are hard. If you’re answering the question from the bullet above, things will get hard. They won’t be hard through the entire process, but at some point they will be. Don’t quit just because it gets difficult. Adjust if the process is flawed. Regroup if you get flustered and confused. Modify your question if it wasn’t clear. Whatever you do, don’t quit. Chances are that if you asked yourself a question, it is something important enough to address.