During a podcast interview last week, Elon Musk spoke about many wide-ranging topics over the course of two and a half hours. Here is the entire interview:


There's no question Musk is the most brilliant entrepreneur we've seen in decades, and before you start listening to the podcast know that the conversation might inspire you and make you want to start your own company...ten times over.

Yet, it was a segue into how the brain works about 10% in that caught my attention. Musk talked about how the limbic system controls the emotional center of our brains, the impulses and motivations we have that we can't always control. He references the cerebral cortex, which is the outer layer of the brain that controls basic thinking and reasoning.

You can think of it in this way. Later today, I'm driving across town for a radio interview. To get there, I'll use my cerebral cortex (and a GPS). I'll make sound, reasoned decisions about which lane to use and how fast to drive. And, I'll probably stop at a Chick-fil-A for lunch.

Yet, what's far more important than determining how to drive to my interview (the basic route, speed, and detours along the way) is the deeper motivation, the underlying reason, the purpose of even doing the interview. (If you must know, I'm promoting my book.)

How to get there is one thing; why is way more important.

The most famous entrepreneur of our day is keenly aware of these two distinct regions of the brain, and you should be as well. If you are running a company, working in a team, selling or marketing a product, or just trying to understand people, you should always stay cognizant of what drives people at a deeper level.

Here's another example.

The host started talking about how we are all enamored with tech--the latest gadgets, the latest update for a Tesla, the coolest new MacBook. He wondered where it will end. I wrote about this a few weeks ago, that apps like Instagram tap into deeper motivations and rewards, sometimes causing addictive behavior.

Of course, that led to a discussion about A.I. and the dangers of letting computers interface with us and making decisions on our behalf. We write A.I. code, but we could also teach an A.I. to write A.I. code, which is perhaps the most dangerous threshold for us to cross.

And, they talked about an A.I. connecting to our brains.

"We are the biological bootloader for A.I.," said Musk, in what is one of his most profound quotes ever. He spoke about primal drives, the things we like and hate, the things we fear. When we click "like" on Facebook, it is a projection of our limbic system, he says. A.I. could take advantage of this somehow, although it's a far future scenario.

My word of advice in all of this? Yes, there is a danger with A.I., but for now, it's fascinating to realize and understand deeper human motivations.

Maybe you've been sidetracked by the "cerebral cortex" activities in your job or in running a company. Taxes, spreadsheets, and business plans. We can all become too fixated on the surface level details. Yet, the inner drive we have as humans, the motivations and desires for success and recognition--don't lose sight of those. Don't ignore those factors as you get caught up in the details of actually doing your job.

It's way too easy to forget about deeper motivations, emotional intelligence, and the behavioral aspects of your customers and colleagues.

Empathy trumps reason. If there's a big takeaway from the talk with Elon Musk, despite some of the negatives, it's that this ability to tap into the deeper motivations--something perhaps Musk does naturally--that makes all of the difference.

At least until the A.I. takes over.