Three things Elon Musk taught me

Three things Elon Musk taught me

We all have heroes or people that we look up to. But we spend most of our time admiring them from afar rather than trying to deconstruct what drives their success and then applying it to our own lives.

I recently read the book Elon Musk by Ashley Vance, a biography of the legendary entrepreneur, and I was completely blown away.

The book provides an amazing overview of Elon’s life to date and is rich with powerful insights and the occasional funny anecdote.

Here are the top 3 things I learned from Elon Musk.

You literally can learn anything you put your mind to.

Elon is a massive fan of reading. So much so that he prioritizes it as a key part of his workday rather than trying to fit in during his free time. To be clear this perspective on reading, and its guilt-free integration into the workday isn’t unique to Elon. It’s a perspective shared by many of the world’s billionaires including Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and Mark Cuban.

What is rather unique to Elon is his belief that you can completely change careers and learn just about anything you want, no matter its complexity – provided you are truly passionate about the subject and dedicate the time and energy to learn. For example, Elon knew nothing about the space industry or rocket construction before starting SpaceX.

The solution?

He spent months and months reading every textbook he could get his hands on to understand the ins and outs of rocket design, propulsion, and aerospace engineering. And today we have SpaceX – the company that I’m sure will put the first humans on Mars.

The importance of having skin in the game.

In 1999 Elon sold his first company Zip2 to Compaq. He owned 7.2% of the company and made $22 million from the sale. In 2002 eBay paid $1.5 billion for Paypal. Musk owned 16.7% of the company and walked away with $250 million. So after his first two companies, Elon had made roughly $272 million in total. After taxes and some expenditure, it’s safe to assume he netted about $200 million from those transactions.

Most people would consider that an incredible achievement and wouldn’t want to put such a fortune at risk. But not Elon.

So what did he do next with his wealth? Elon took the concept of “having skin in the game” to an entirely new level. He invested $100 million to start SpaceX, $70 million to start Tesla, and $10 million into Solar City. That’s $180 million of $200 million, or 90% of his wealth!

At the time this article was written in January 2022, Elon was worth an estimated $268 billion, so while he risked 90% of his wealth, he’s now increased that original $272 million by nearly 1,000 times! This isn’t to say we should all take similar risks, but with risk comes reward, and there’s nothing like having major skin in the game to compel you into action.

Learn to truly think for yourself.

Elon doesn’t take anything as a given. For example, when he first considered building a rocket he was amazed at how much money various manufacturers wanted to charge.

Instead, Elon employed a way of thinking based on “First Principles”.

He broke down a rocket into its raw materials and realized he could buy all those same materials for just 2% of the cost the rocket manufacturers were asking. He then assembled his own engineers and worked with them to reassemble those same raw materials into a much more cost-effective design that still accomplished the same function – safely reaching space.

Too often we base our thinking and expectations on what has happened before, or how things are currently done. By taking the time to study the “First Principles” approach you’ll learn a powerful way to truly think for yourself.

So, those are the top 3 things I took away from Elon Musk, by Ashley Vance. Perhaps they’ll nudge your own plans or thinking along. At the very least I hope they prompt thoughtful consideration about what’s possible in the years to come.

Eric Partaker
Eric Partaker

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