My top 5 pearls of wisdom from Elon Musk’s biography

I just finished Elon Musk’s biography and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’d highly recommend it- it’s both entertaining and informative. Here’s some of what I got out of it.

1) Doing everything fast

One of the funniest quotes in the book came from Kevin Brogan, who’s now named Brogan BamBrogan (seriously.)

Everything he does is fast. He pees fast. It’s like a fire hose—three seconds and out. He’s authentically in a hurry.

Seriously though, Elon Musk is an insanely talented, hard-working man. He doesn’t dabble. He’s all in. The more time spent dealing with those pesky basic human needs, the less time remains for changing the world.

2) The standard way of doing things

I absolutely can’t stand it when I’m doing a code review, I ask why someone’s taken a strange approach, and they say “That’s the way it’s always been done.” Now I know consistency in a codebase is important, but sometimes you have to think for yourself and do a little refactoring.

Here’s what a former employee said about Musk.

If you told him that you made a particular choice because ‘it was the standard way things had always been done,’ he’d kick you out of a meeting fast.

3) Overnight successes don’t really exist.

I picked up this book because I had been hearing so much about this Tesla guy all of the sudden. Maybe I’m the only one living under a rock, but he seemed to come out of nowhere and turn the automotive industry on its head. Turns out he went through a hell of a lot before becoming the “Tesla guy”.

News - Tesla Motors Model S UK Launch
What? This guy didn’t just go to sleep as an average Joe and wake up having founded multiple world-changing companies?

The Frequency Illusion: How I learned that “Funner” isn’t a word

The Frequency Illusion, also known as the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, describes how people who just learn or notice something start seeing it everywhere. It’s like the time when, as a youngster, I read an Archie comic where Jughead pointed out that “funner” isn’t a word. That was news to me! But then I heard that same “news” repeatedly in the next few weeks- at school, on TV, and more.

Thanks for the grammar lesson, Archie!

Anyway, back to Elon Musk. The fact that I suddenly started hearing about him everywhere doesn’t mean that he just suddenly because famous and successful; more likely I just heard something about him that stuck and then I became more likely to notice mentions of him.

4) The power of persuasion

Musk is a brilliant motivator. It’s so much more powerful to challenge people to challenge themselves than it is to just demand things from them.

Here’s how Brogan described Musk’s management style.

He doesn’t say, ‘You have to do this by Friday at two P.M.,’ He says, ‘I need the impossible done by Friday at two P.M. Can you do it?’ Then, when you say yes, you are not working hard because he told you to. You’re working hard for yourself. It’s a distinction you can feel. You have signed up to do your own work.

5) Acronyms Seriously Suck

At my first few grown-up jobs, I remember being really intimidated by all of the jargon and acronyms that were used. (Until, of course, I started using the terms, thus perpetuating the cycle of acronyms…) I really hate acronyms.

Apparently so does Elon Musk. Below are some of my favorite parts from his infamous 2010 SpaceX email on acronyms.

Excessive use of made up acronyms is a significant impediment to communication…

No one can actually remember all these acronyms and people don’t want to seem dumb in a meeting, so they just sit there in ignorance. This is particularly tough on new employees

The key test for an acronym is to ask whether it helps or hurts communication.


If you’ve read the book or enjoyed this article, let me know what you think on Twitter!

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