Demma’s Notes: Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future

“There’s a starman waiting in the sky, he’d like to come and meet us, but he thinks he’d blow our minds.” – Bowie

Elon Musk has been grabbing more headlines than usual lately: for announcing a passenger trip to the moon, for the Model 3 becoming the best selling car in the US, for poking the SEC when he said on Twitter he would take Tesla private, and for taking a puff of a marijuana cigar on the Joe Rogan podcast, to name a few. 

I’ve always been a fan of Musk. After hearing him talk in long form with Rogan about his thoughts on his companies, artificial intelligence, and his vision for the future, I went down a bit of a rabbit hole. I liked the Rogan interview so much I listened to it twice, and then I downloaded the audiobook of Musk’s only authorized biography called Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. I have officially graduated from casual fan to unconditional fanboy.

The biography follows Elon’s story from his birth and difficult upbringing (although the details of his youth are left out) to his first company Zip2 to his first mega-hit PayPal to his portfolio of companies as of 2015 when the book was published, SpaceX, Tesla, and Solar City (now Tesla Energy). Musk’s story is of fairy-tale quality. A prodigious hero. A family legacy of adventure. Risk taking. Making the impossible possible. Musk is our equivalent of a past giant like Ben Franklin or Thomas Edison or Henry Ford or maybe Einstein, and the coolest part is that he is alive and walking among us, and still writing his story in real time.

Here are my key take-aways from the book:

  • Work way harder. Like twice as much. Musk is the current CEO of both Space X and Tesla (and those are just his full time jobs). The book details his 6-day, 90+ hour workweeks, showing Musk working at night and work on weekends, work while doing family stuff, and scheduling his calendar in 5 minute intervals. 
  • Have a mission and vision for the future. “Make humans a multi-planetary species.” This is Musk’s plain language and compelling vision that drives everything he does. Simple, clear, and inspiring. 
  • Take more risks. On 60 Minutes this past week Musk discussed nearly bankrupting Tesla to achieve his Model 3 production targets. Musk explained that to achieve 1000x output it is necessary to bet the company. That type of moonshot boldness has been typical for Musk. He’s placed similar bets in the past, including risking nearly his entire PayPal fortune to save Space X.
  • Use showmanship and theatrics to make critical points or to illustrate milestones on the road to the vision. My favorite example of this happens after the book, when Musk launched his 2008 Telsa Roadster into space aboard Space X’s Falcon Heavy rocket in 2017. The Starman mannequin sitting in the driver seat is presently orbiting the sun with periodic passes by Mars, which may someday be home to a human colony that Musk may start. 
  • Hire great people. This is basically a business cliche, but Musk takes it to a different level. He selects for the best of the best. His famous interview question is this: You’re standing on the surface of the earth. You travel one mile south, one mile west, an done mile north, and then you end up in exactly the same place. Where are you? (there are 2 correct answers, one easy and one hard)
  • Dream more. Musk has a childlike quality to his approach to life. He’s a fan of sci-fi movies, video games, and books like The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. The book talks about his regular dream sessions with people like Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
  • Join the Future. Imagine your car dropping you off at work and then it goes out and self-drives Uber rides making money for you while you’re working. Imagine looking up in the sky knowing that 1 million humans live in a self-sustaining colony on Mars. Imagine artificial intelligence that you could tap into instantly that has 1 million times more processing power than your brain. In Musk’s world this is not sci-fi, this is a world that we all will share in our lifetime. And reading his story makes you think it just might be possible. 

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