ELON MUSK: THE BOOK. Key Takeaways.
Grit, Brains and Balls and Luck.
While vacationing in Brazil and his native South Africa, Elon Musk got infected with malaria. The illness was misdiagnosed and a day before the ‘too late to do anything’, a visiting doctor accustomed to the disease serendipitously came across the case and put him immediately on a huge dosage of antibiotics. Elon Musk’s takeaway from the whole episode? “Vacations can kill you.”
Elon Musk once told that he took just 2 vacations during the past 12 years to a Denmark TV in 2015. Another time he said that if he had to lie on a beach getting tanned and doing nothing, that would possibly kill him. I don’t recall the source of the same.
This is an idea that is projected most by Ashlee Vance in his book — Elon Musk, How the Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is Reshaping our Future. a book I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. The sheer amount of sweat, hard work, dedication and perseverance portrayed in it is unbelievable.
While most successful people worked 20 hour days, Elon did 23. The quote — ‘hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard’ doesn’t apply to Musk much. Elon Musk is probably one of the brainiest entrepreneurs alive, and he is also one of the most hardworking. A rare combination.
Elon Musk devoured books as a child, usually 1–2 a day, as a grown up he has found more than one way to keep learning. While he still stays an avid reader, he developed a unique ability to learn as much as he can from everyone he comes across, which according to some engineers at SpaceX is close to 90%. While this may be exaggerated, the curiosity and inquisitiveness cannot go unacknowledged.
While there are tons of business and entrepreneurial gems to be taken off from other biographies of great entrepreneurs, a recent one being Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, a memoir that I reviewed (and recommended), Elon Musk’s story is just one long tale of mind blowing perseverance paired with a borderline insane guts. And a ton of luck. Period. The formula is pretty simple for Elon.
The story of how his companies, both space and car companies almost went bust and stared right into oblivion only to be saved few days prior to cash running out with bluffing, guts and what seems to be eternal optimism gives you sweats just reading it. The SpaceX company wins a giant life saving 1.6 billion $ deal by NASA on 23rd December, while two days later existing investors agree to pool in emergency funding into Tesla just a few hours before it was to go bankrupt, adding to 12 million of Elon’s personal funds, which he scrapped by selling even his car and other prized possessions.
Here are some other key takeaways on Musk’s business style.
- Not doing something awesome recently, is a valid ground for termination.
- Never miss details, not even small ones on a long powerpoint presentation.
- Frame problems in a way that’s really good for business. I wrote a whole article on how Elon successfully does it. You can find it here.
- Know your shit. Kevin Watson who works at SpaceX said this —
Elon is brilliant. He’s involved in just about everything. He understands everything. If he asks you a question, you learn very quickly not to go give him a gut reaction.
He wants answers that get down to the fundamental laws of physics. One thing he understands really well is the physics of the rockets. He understands that like nobody else. The stuff I have seen him do in his head is crazy.
He can get in discussions about flying a satellite and whether we can make the right orbit and deliver Dragon at the same time and solve all these equations in real time. It’s amazing to watch the amount of knowledge he has accumulated over the years.
I don’t want to be the person who ever has to compete with Elon. You might as well leave the business and find something else fun to do. He will outmaneuver you, outthink you, and out-execute you.
My other fav quotes from the book.
“The guys like Straubel who had been at Tesla since the beginning are quick to remind people that the chance to build an awesome electric car had been there all along. “It’s not really like there was a rush to this idea, and we got there first,” Straubel said. “It is frequently forgotten in hindsight that people thought this was the shittiest business opportunity on the planet. The venture capitalists were all running for the hills.” 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.”
…Musk put on a display of strength and determination at the event as well. There was a wooden pole perhaps thirty feet high with a dancing platform at the top. Dozens of people tried and failed to climb it, and then Musk gave it a go. “His technique was very awkward, and he should not have succeeded,” said Lyndon. “But he hugged it and just inched up and inched up until he reached the top.”
This statement about him at a Burning man festival pretty much sums up the book.
One another notable aspect is how eager he to soak up the knowledge in others like a dry sponge.
Jim Cantrell (who helped Elon start SpaceX) said this about Elon’s intelligence:
He is by far the single smartest person that I have ever worked with … period. I can’t estimate his IQ but he is very very intelligent. And not the typical egg head kind of smart. He has a real applied mind. He literally sucks the knowledge and experience out of people that he is around.
Elon’s secrets aren’t complex, it’s not like a technological advantage that can get stolen, poached or copied. It’s plain evident, but hardest to replicate — grit, balls and brains. And a whole lot of luck.
In the end, this book is hard to stomach for anybody. It’s dizzying just reading through. But worth it.