Elon Musk: What Can We Learn From a Mad Genius?

What are you doing today that people will remember in 200 years? We often hear incredibly successful people pose questions like this during TEDtalks and conventions. Presumably, it’s to inspire us laymen to Dream Big! Imagine the unimaginable! Be the change we wish to see in the world!

More often, it leaves us feeling like useless sacks of meat who just wasted half a day watching Law and Order reruns when, apparently, we could have been solving the world’s clean water crisis. But for people like Elon Musk, that kind of potential historical legacy is a daily motivator.

Big Dreams Have Big Price Tags

Obviously, Elon Musk is a visionary. Within the last decade or so, he began manufacturing revolutionary electric cars, founded a solar panels production company, and LAUNCHED A ROCKET INTO SPACE. You know, the usual stuff. Musk is a true forward-thinker who has made his mark on the 21st century. But with big dreams of revolutionizing human transport and colonizing Mars, are his grand plans…too grand? With hats in so many arenas, Musk is burning through capital like it’s about to expire. According to CNN, “since going public in 2010, Tesla has lost a total of $4.6 billion, managing to turn a narrow profit in just two quarters.” It merged with sister company Solar City in 2016 to make one vertically-integrated energy company—a move that Musk painted as a stroke of brilliance. In reality, it was to save Solar City from bankruptcy.

Most recently, Tesla has decided to lay off 9% of its workforce as it desperately tries to reduce costs. This follows months of rollercoasting stock, a mass recall, and frenzied attempts to meet its production goals for the much-anticipated Model 3. Granted, no one really thought SpaceX would be successful (even Elon Musk himself only gave it a 10% chance) and now it holds a multibillion-dollar contract with NASA. And his tunneling start-up, the Boring Company—which began as a Twitter joke btw—just picked up the contract for Chicago’s projected high-speed train into O’Hare. This places its company value somewhere in the ballpark of a cool $16 billion. For all his seemingly colossal floundering, Musk always seems to scrape by with a hell of lot more than the simple skin of his teeth.

Take It With a Grain of Salt

There’s certainly plenty of criticism to be found about the way Mr. Elon Musk finances and manages his assets. But at the end of the day, whether he ends up retiring on Mars or his companies all fold, there’s still a lot we can learn from this unconventional entrepreneur. Here are three lessons you can start implementing today.

“I’ve actually not read any books on time management.” -Elon Musk, Mashable, 2012

Splitting one’s time between interplanetary travel and the construction of viable EV infrastructure doesn’t exactly leave a lot of room for those crime show reruns we love so much, eh? So, how does Musk manage? Well, he sticks to a tight schedule of 6-6.5 hours of sleep a night, roughly 80-90 hours of work a week, and keeps the weekends for his family sanity.

Obviously, this arrangement is a wee bit more extreme than what we’d recommend for the average business owner (or really anyone). But the truth is, many of you already work grueling schedules—putting in long hours of physical labor or “winding down” at night by sorting through paperwork and financial matters. So, what’s the billionaire’s secret? Productivity. The hours that Elon Musk spends working are focused and organized. He spends much of his time reviewing what he’s already accomplished and finding ways to improve upon it. (Something he calls a “feedback loop.”)

Consider how your time can be best spent, and then act accordingly. Do you need some do-not-disturb office hours? A new hire? A more efficient website? Think about what’s slowing you down and talk to some colleagues about how it can change. Oh, and maybe put some stronger coffee in the break room. You didn’t think the great Elon Musk survived without caffeine, right?

“There’s a silly notion that failure’s not an option at NASA. Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.” – Elon Musk, Fast Company, 2005

With his hands in so many projects, it’s clear Musk knows that failure is always a possibility. Consumer trends change, startups disrupt markets, governments fall. And that’s not even counting the day-to-day hiccups that can throw a wrench in your plans—a missed payment, a dishonest employee, a bad review. The trick is to always have a contingency plan. Two years after making the above remark in an interview, Musk told Inc Magazine that “It’s OK to have your eggs in one basket as long as you control what happens to that basket.” You can be sure that if Tesla, SpaceX, and the Boring Company all fail tomorrow, Elon Musk won’t be erased from history. He’s like a prairie dog who will just pop up in another hole, with another grand idea, and a plan to see it through.

So, what kind of plans have you made for your business’s future? Or your own for that matter? Financial advising, continued education, proper liability insurances, leadership training, and realistic goal setting are all simple strategies you can start researching now to ensure you’re still a worthy competitor tomorrow.

“Numbers [of employees] will never compensate for talent in getting the right answer, will tend to slow down progress, and will make the task incredibly expensive.” -Elon Musk, Wired Science, 2007

According to Glassdoor, employee reviews of Elon Musk’s companies have shown that he’s created a truly impressive corporate culture. He encourages his managers to both inspire and be inspired, to serve their teams and guide them toward success. (Not simply sit back and wait for subordinates to deliver results.) Because a productive team is one that communicates, trusts, and encourages.

Does that sound like the environment where you work? Do you have the power to affect current or new hires? If not, perhaps consider leading by example. If you put forth a positive attitude, helping others when they need it and taking pride in your work, you may be surprised to see just how contagious that behavior can be. And if the environment is just too toxic, consider a change of scene. We hear Elon’s hiring.

Anything But Ordinary

Elon Musk is a bit like that girl in high school that everybody loves to hate. He’s smart, successful, filthy rich, and boasts about 22 million Twitter followers. We may snicker every time the press reports another financial setback, or bad review, or Tesla bursting into flames. But at the end of the day, we’re all more than a little fascinated—and impressed—at the way he always seems to bounce back. The man never gives up on his dreams, no matter how outlandish they may seem. And whether he makes it to Mars himself, or some plucky future protégé does it in his honor, you can be damn sure Elon Musk has already made his mark in history books. So, yea, what did you do today?

Elon Musk - Success MagazineElon Musk - Forbes Life MagazineElon Musk - Motor TrendElon Musk - Atlantic Elon Musk - Fortune MagazineElon Musk - Wharton MagazineElon Musk - INC

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