I’m not trying to be anyone’s savior. I’m just trying to think about the future and not be sad. — Elon Musk
Elon Musk is a South African-born entrepreneur, who, through his undeniable success, has become something of a real-life sci-fi visionary hero. Having played monumental roles in Space X, Tesla, PayPal, SolarCity, Neuralink, and The Boring Company — his resume continues to expand year after year.
What made him who he is now? High existence gathered some of his greatest quotes to give you a peek into the profoundly revolutionary psyche of Elon Musk. Enjoy!
Learning and Logic
1. The importance of asking the right questions.
“[The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy] taught me that the tough thing is figuring out what questions to ask, but that once you do that, the rest is really easy.
I came to the conclusion that we should aspire to increase the scope and scale of human consciousness in order to better understand what questions to ask. Really, the only thing that makes sense is to strive for greater collective enlightenment
2. Deciding what work to do.
“When I was in college, I just thought, ‘Well, what are the things that are most likely to affect the future of humanity at a macro level?’ And it just seemed like there would be the Internet, sustainable energy, making life multi-planetary, and then genetics and AI.”
3. Being a part of the web revolution.
“It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, I want to make a bunch of money.’ […] With the internet, anyone who had a connection anywhere in the world would have access to all the world’s information, just like a nervous system.
Humanity was effectively becoming a super organism and qualitatively different than what it had been before, and so I wanted to be part of that.”
4. Motivating students and accelerated learning.
“The best teacher I ever had was my elementary school principal. Our math teacher quit for some reason, and he decided to sub in himself for math and accelerate the syllabus by a year. We had to work like the house was on fire for the first half of the lesson and do extra homework, but then we got to hear stories of when he was a soldier in WWII. If you didn’t do the work, you didn’t get to hear the stories. Everybody did the work.”
5. Critical thinking and filter bubbles.
“Do you have the right axioms, are they relevant, and are you making the right conclusions based on those axioms?
That’s the essence of critical thinking, and yet it is amazing how often people fail to do that. I think wishful thinking is innate in the human brain. You want things to be the way you wish them to be, and so you tend to filter information that you shouldn’t filter.”
6. First principles thinking and reasoning by analogy.
“I do think a good framework for thinking is physics, you know, the first principles reasoning. What I mean by that is boil things down to their fundamental truths and reason up from there as opposed to reasoning by analogy.
Through most of our life, we get through life by reasoning by analogy, which essentially means kind of copying what other people do with slight variations. And you have to do that, otherwise mentally you wouldn’t be able to get through the day. But when you want to do something new, you have to apply the physics approach. Physics has really figured out how to discover new things that are counterintuitive, like quantum mechanics; it’s really counterintuitive.”
7. Answer the ‘why’ of education.
“A lot of kids are in school puzzled as to why they’re there. I think if you can explain the ‘why’ of things, then that makes a huge difference to people’s motivation.
Then they understand purpose.”
8. Learning more than you think you can.
“I do kinda feel like my head is full! My context-switching penalty is high, and my process isolation is not what it used to be. Frankly, though, I think most people can learn a lot more than they think they can.
They sell themselves short without trying. One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree–make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e., the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.”
9. On being dedicated to learning something new.
“I never had a job where I made anything physical. I cofounded two Internet software companies, Zip2 and PayPal. So it took me a few years to kind of learn rocket science, if you will.
I had to learn how you make hardware. I’d never seen a CNC machine or laid out carbon fibre. I didn’t know any of these things. But if you read books and talk to experts, you’ll pick it up pretty quickly. […] It’s really pretty straightforward. Just read books and talk to people–particularly books. The data rate of reading is much greater than when somebody’s talking.
“You can learn whatever you need to do to start a successful business either in school or out of school. A school, in theory, should help accelerate that process, and I think oftentimes it does. It can be an efficient learning process, perhaps more efficient than empirically learning lessons. There are examples of successful entrepreneurs who never graduated high school, and there are those that have PhD’s.
I think the important principle is to be dedicated to learning what you need to know, whether that is in school or empirically.”
10. Structured format of grade school.
“It shouldn’t be that you’ve got these grades where people move in lockstep and everyone goes through English, math, science, and so forth from fifth grade to sixth grade to seventh grade like it’s an assembly line. People are not objects on an assembly line. That’s a ridiculous notion. People learn and are interested in different things at different paces.
You really want to disconnect the whole grade-level thing from the subjects. Allow people to progress at the fastest pace that they can or are interested in, in each subject. It seems like a really obvious thing.”
11. The value of the truth.
“I care a lot about the truth of things and trying to understand the truth of things. I think that’s important. If you’re going to come up with some solution, then the truth is really, really important.”
12. Aim for utility.
“It’s better to approach this [building a company] from the standpoint of saying–rather than you want to be an entrepreneur or you want to make money–what are some useful things that you do that you wish existed in the world?”
13. The value of profit.
“I think the profit motive is a good one if the rules of an industry are properly set up. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with profit. In fact, profit just means that people are paying you more for whatever you’re doing that you’re spending to create it. That’s a good thing.”
14. Creating a compelling company.
“Fundamentally, if you don’t have a compelling product at a compelling price, you don’t have a great company.”
15. 40-hour workweek.
“You’re not going to create revolutionary cars or rockets on 40 hours a week. It just won’t work. Colonizing Mars isn’t going to happen on 40 hours a week.”
16. Approving and executing on ideas.
“The path to the CEO’s office should not be through the CFO’s office, and it should not be through the marketing department. It needs to be through engineering and design.”
17. Creating companies.
“I don’t create companies for the sake of creating companies, but to get things done.”
18. Having good people.
“A small group of very technically strong people will always beat a large group of moderately strong people.”
19. Personality matters.
“The biggest mistake in general that I’ve made–and I’m trying to correct for that–is to put too much of a weighting on somebody’s talent and not enough on their personality […].
It actually matters whether somebody has a good heart. It really does. And I’ve made the mistake of thinking that sometimes it’s just about the brain.”
20. The ‘Special Forces’ management approach.
“I want to accentuate the philosophy that I have with companies in the startup phase, which is a sort of ‘special forces’ approach. The minimum passing grade is excellent. That’s the way I believe startup companies need to be if they’re ultimately going to be large and successful companies. We’d adhered to that to some degree, but we’d strayed from that path in a few places. That doesn’t mean the people that we let go on that basis would be considered bad–it’s just the difference between Special Forces and regular Army.
If you’re going to get through a really tough environment and ultimately grow the company to something significant, you have to have a very high level of dedication and talent throughout the organization.“
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