Elon Musk, in the words of one blogger who did a series of in-depth interviews with the Tesla and SpaceX founder, is, basically, "the raddest man alive." Who could fail to be impressed by a single entrepreneur who has set his sights on both getting humans to Mars and revolutionizing our energy economy?
Because Musk is so obviously extraordinary, it could be easy to feel like his career is a world apart -- the efforts of a visionary that mere mortals like us could never emulate. But while it's probably true that, for most of us, the ship has sailed on leading the way to interplanetary travel, that doesn't mean folks with more down-to-earth careers have nothing to learn from the mogul.
When a user of question-and-answer site Quora asked the simple question, "What can we learn from Elon Musk?" a host of devoted Musk watchers offered thoughtful answers. Among the best was a reply from blogger (and recent New York Times profile-ee) James Altucher, who took the time to listen "to every interview [Musk] ever did and compiled what I think are the most inspirational quotes."
Here are a few of the 22 essential takeaways he extracted from all that research:
1. Focus on the impact of your dreams, not the odds.
Maybe, like Altucher, your initial reaction to this principle is to worry that your particular dreams might just be impossible. But, as Altucher reminds readers, this advice is coming from a man who wants to colonize Mars. Are you dreams really more of a long shot than that?
2. No one does amazing things for the money.
"I've interviewed over 100 people now on my podcast. Each of the 100 have achieved amazing results in their life," notes Altucher. "But none of them have done if for the money." Neither did Musk, who Altucher quotes as saying: "Going from PayPal, I thought: 'Well, what are some of the other problems that are likely to most affect the future of humanity?' Not from the perspective, 'What's the best way to make money?'"
The takeaway: if you want to do great things, focus on the difference you'll make in the world (or to yourself), not the financial rewards (or the glory).
3. Reason from first principles.
A lot has been written about Musk's mindset, but Altucher sums up his unusual and incredibly effective approach with this quote: "Boil things down to their fundamental truths and reason up from there." In short, to improve your thinking, set received wisdom aside and try to look at the world with fresh eyes, using objective data and clear-headed observation.
4. Persistence pays.
Not all of the lessons of Musk's career are off the wall and unexpected. Sometimes, he proves that conventional wisdom is right. Like with this quote: "Persistence is very important. You should not give up unless you are forced to give up."
5. In hiring, talent beats numbers.
Some entrepreneurs tackle difficult problems by trying to throw a whole lot of warm bodies at them. Not Musk.
"It is a mistake to hire huge numbers of people to get a complicated job done. Numbers will never compensate for talent in getting the right answer (two people who don't know something are no better than one), will tend to slow down progress, and will make the task incredibly expensive," Altucher quotes him as saying.
So next time you need to hire your way out of jam, spare a thought for this bit of wisdom and take the time to find the right talent rather than just hoping that brute numbers will save you.
6. Talent can't compensate for a lousy personality.
According to Altucher, Musk is a late but fervent convert to the idea that great ability can't compensate for a lousy personality.
Here's the quote: "My biggest mistake is probably weighing too much on someone's talent and not someone's personality. I think it matters whether someone has a good heart." So, once more with feeling: don't hire jerks!
7. Constantly question yourself.
You'd think that someone with Musk's achievements might be satisfied with his efforts, but that's not the case. Musk claims he constantly strives to improve himself.
"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," he said. If Musk isn't resting on his laurels, neither should you.
8. Finding the right questions is most of the battle.
Apparently, Musk's favorite book as a teenager was The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Here's the biggest lesson he took away from it: "It taught me that the tough thing is figuring out what questions to ask, but that once you do that, the rest is really easy."