Entrepreneur and inventor Elon Musk is a lionhearted leader with a strong stomach for risk. He revels in thinking big, from inventing an environmentally friendly car to making space travel a reality. Even among fellow entrepreneurs, the scale of Musk's ambition sets him apart from most leaders who tackle the world's biggest problems. His one-hundred-hour work weeks and estimated $11 billion fortune make him the closest thing we have to the fictional superhero Tony Stark, aka Iron Man.
Here are three shortcuts to think and act like Elon Musk.
1. Intelligent Failure. Musk is his own person, someone who's comfortable in his own skin. We can all learn from that. He comes from a foundation of deep humility. It's OK to be wrong. It's OK to fail. It doesn't make you a worthless human being. In an interview for CNN's Top 10 Thinkers, he says: "When starting out Tesla and SpaceX, in both cases, I thought the odds of success were less than 50%... So it's not as though I was convinced that it would all work. I thought, 'Well, it probably won't work, but it's worth a try because the outcome is important". Failure is inevitable when moving into an uncertain space.
I recently heard the thought leader Rita McGrath at Columbia Business School speak passionately about how to fail intelligently. The take home message is in uncertain environments stop worrying about the rate of failure because you can afford a lot of failures if they're cheap. As the saying goes, "fail fast, fail cheap and move on". To fail intelligently, you need to focus on three simple rules. First, know what success looks like and doesn't look like. I'm always surprised at the lack of a clear outcome. Deciding what not to focus on can also limit the uncertainty. Second, convert assumptions into knowledge and learning. This is a much smarter use of time than trying to prove how right you are. Finally, codify and share what's been learned with a process known as 'After Action Reviews' (AAR). Pioneered by the military to ensure continuous learning, the process involves asking 1. What did you intend to happen? 2. What happened? 3. What are the lessons learned?
2. Ripple Intelligence. Can you navigate different trends, changes, and contexts that can disrupt an industry or business, for better or worse? Musk has ripple intelligence, which is the ability to see the interactions of business contexts like ripples moving across a pond. He has a vivid imagination, obsessive focus, and deep curiosity about the world and business in particular. He is brave not just in his words but his actions, and he uses ripple intelligence in a systematic way for moving fast. One of the best ways to develop this intelligence is to step outside your normal orbit and have a point of view about the ideas, trends, and issues that keep you awake at night, as well as the ones that excite you. Done well, this can help you anticipate hidden opportunities and catch the next big wave before others do.
3. Think 10 [x], not 10%. When was the last time you set a challenge for yourself that pushed you to deliver more than you thought was humanly possible? Most people think about how they can grow by 10% or 20%, not by a factor of 10. Musk's mindset is hardwired to think bigger and bolder, whether it's wiping out malaria in the next ten years or making space tourism a reality. He has an eye on the future and can spot an unmet opportunity quickly before others.
You don't have to be a CEO or run a startup to think 10 [x]. It's about taking control of your vision rather than someone else hiring you to fulfill theirs. Get started, have a clear destination, fail fast, test ideas lightly and often, and know that those who think 10 [x] hold two beliefs: (1) problems can't be solved with yesterday's thinking, and (2) you have the resources to achieve your goals.
Summary. What future are you prepared to commit to? It's not easy to close the door and jump into the unknown, bringing your boldest self to your biggest challenges. Embrace Musk's mindset of continual learning and curiosity about the world and keep starting until you really start.