The Elon Enigma: Unpacking a Tech Titan
What I Learned From Reading His Biography
Paid subscribers and founding members have access to my audio narration of this article at the bottom of the page. It’s giving Barbara Walter’s 20/20 voiceover mixed with Charlemagne The God on Power 105’s The Breakfast Club. Get into it.
Last month, I was listening to one of my favorite tech podcasts, Hard Fork, where they conducted an interview with Walter Isaacson, a biographer whose career skyrocketed after his official biography of Steve Jobs was published mere weeks after the tech tycoon’s death. The podcast interview was timely because Isaacson’s new biography, Elon Musk, just hit bookshelves, offering an intimate glimpse into the life of the real-world Tony Stark. Until that episode, everything I knew about Elon had been against my will. It’s hard to be disinterested in the wealthiest man on Earth who is on a mission to make humanity a mulitplanetary species, but despite that, I’ve never gone out of my way to find out more about him. That has only been exacerbated lately as he has become more vocal about his political ideations and how the “woke mind virus” influences society. The more I heard about that, the more I thought, “Yeah, fuck him. Ol’ big head, no top lip havin’, mouth breathin’ lookin-ass muthafucka.”
To my surprise, as I listened to Walter’s interview, I became increasingly intrigued as he unveiled what he learned about Elon’s past, present, and future during the last two years that he spent with him, including during the Twitter takeover. He broached topics from Elon’s relationship with his transgender daughter, the fear he embodies about artificial intelligence, and Elon's multiple mercurial personalities, including one that people around him call “demon mode.”
Walter ended his interview on Hard Fork by reminding the audience of Steve Jobs's quote, “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that usually do.” He also said, “We’ve got more referees than we have risk-takers. More regulators and lawyers than we have innovators and doers. I hope people who read the book will say, alright, I’m going try some of these audacious epic goals, but I’m not going to be as much of an asshole as I pursue it.”
On a personal level, as an entrepreneur who has so many ideas just sitting on the back burner, I wanted to hear about how a man from humble beginnings grew to lead multiple gigantic, world-changing companies and what toll it has taken on him and those around him. So, immediately after the podcast, I opened my Audible app and purchased the audiobook.
Instead of doing a book review, I thought I’d share some of my biggest takeaways from how Elon runs his businesses.
Lessons From Elon
All of Elon’s employees and engineers at each of his companies quickly familiarized themselves with a framework for getting work done that Eli required of everyone, including himself. It’s a five-step process that has repeatedly put him ahead of the competition by getting things done on unimaginable timescales and at costs much lower than anyone thought possible.
Question every requirement. Each requirement should come with the name of the person who made it. You should never accept that a requirement came from a department (i.e. -- legal/safety department). Get the name of the person who made it and question the requirement no matter how intelligent that person is. Requirements are most dangerous when they come from intelligent people because they are less likely to be questioned. Always question it, even if it comes from the CEO. Then, make the requirement less dumb because all requirements are somewhat wrong and dumb. And then, delete, delete, delete.
Delete any part or process that you can. You may have to add them back later. In fact, if you don't re-add at least 10% of them, you didn't delete enough.
Simplify and optimize. Only after Step 2. A common mistake is to simplify/optimize a part that should not exist.
Accelerate cycle time. Every process can be sped up only after following the first three steps. Otherwise, you speed up steps that should have been deleted.
Automate. Always wait until the end of designing a process, after you have questioned all the requirements and deleted unnecessary parts, before introducing automation.
Ideas On Growth and Innovation
Here are some other things that stood out to me.
The only rules are the ones dictated by the law of physics. Everything else is a recommendation.
If conventional thinking makes your mission impossible, then unconventional thinking is necessary.
Get to a scale that would have an impact as fast as possible.
Even outside of every requirement, every part, process, and specification must have a name attached.
If you make a great product, the sales will follow. Are you a sales company or a product company?
The future will not get here fast enough unless we force it.
This resonated with me because the thing that I hear most often in Cherry Grove regarding the people opposed to my advocacy is, “All of these people are going to die soon anyway.” I don’t wish death on anyone. Also, the reality is that I could die tomorrow. If I didn’t keep moving forward because I was waiting for people to retire or die, what impact would I have left?
Three must-have employee traits: Excellent - Trustworthy - Driven
We are not shooting for the moon. We are shooting for Mars. A maniacal sense of urgency is our operating principle.
I thought this was funny because it sounds like hyperbole. But no, he’s literally shooting for Mars.
All in all, Elon Musk was a great book that gave me a new level of insight into the mind of a man who dreams outside the boundaries of what most people feel comfortable with for themselves or anyone else. It showed me how his relentless drive exceeded everyone’s expectations and made his dreams come true. I am not a fanboy, but it’s impossible to miss significant achievements when they are in plain sight. In the book, Bill Gates, who has a very contentious relationship with Elon, says, “You can feel whatever you want about Elon’s behavior, but there is no one in our time who has done more to push the bounds of science and innovation than he has.”
Thank you for reading Atomik Factory — your support allows me to keep doing this work.
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