Elon Musk is best known as an innovator, business owner, visionary, and bon vivant. What gets lost in that public image, though, is that he's a management theorist. Musk seems to approach running a business much as he'd approach a complex engineering project: Figure out what works and do that, even if it doesn't make sense to anyone else.

About a year ago, Musk wrote an email to his employees at Tesla that neatly encapsulated his thoughts about management and corporate culture. I've written about parts of that email previously but only recently realized that, in 11 short rules, Musk laid out, well, basically everything you need to know about management. Here's my edited version:

  1. No large meetings unless they're of value to the entire audience. Keep them short.
  2. Don't have frequent meetings unless the matter is truly urgent. Resolve it; stop meeting.
  3. If you are not adding value to a meeting, walk out or drop off the call. 
  4. Don't use acronyms and nonsense words for objects, software, or processes.
  5. Avoid any terms that require explanation, because they inhibit communication.
  6. Communicate directly with individuals rather than through a chain of command.
  7. Any manager enforcing chain-of-command communication will be fired.
  8. Don't follow any "company rule" that doesn't make common sense.
  9. Ideas that increase productivity or happiness are always welcome.
  10. Contractors who can't find an employee to vouch for them will be fired.
  11. Never do anything that would make a great Dilbert cartoon.

Now, I've heard and given some of that advice before (notably, numbers 4, 6, and 9), but the remaining eight points are not only highly original, they're also "cut the Gordian knot" solutions to the knottiest problems that plague most companies. Seriously.

As an author and reviewer of business books, I'm pretty aware of what turns up in that kind of literature. Management theory hasn't changed in 50 years. I haven't seen or read anything really new in terms of management technique for, gosh, at least the past two decades.

So here's Elon Musk--boom!--slapping 11 techniques, of which eight are 100 percent original and iconoclastic. This tour de force is as amazing in its own way as the successes of Tesla and SpaceX; more amazing, maybe, because those successes might have been possible only because Musk rethought how companies should be run.

Anyway, publishers send me business books to review and I've built up quite a library of "to read" volumes. After reading Musk's letter, though, I looked up at that shelf and thought to myself: Why bother? I could read that entire library and not get as much true business wisdom as Musk crammed into a single email.

So I threw the books into a crate and carried them out to the recycling bin. 

Published on: Jun 14, 2019
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