Business tycoon, inventor, car designer, investor and visionary — all these accurately describe Elon Musk. Although he’s been making headlines recently for making several outrageous comments, he’s still famously known as the brilliant mind behind SpaceX, Tesla, SolarCity and Paypal (before eBay’s acquisition in 2002). Love him or hate him, Musk is a modern renaissance man who makes people dream big with him.
In Ashlee Vance’s “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future,” you’ll get a glimpse of his character and personality. There’s his love for reading, learning and surrounding himself with people who are better than him. Following his journey and understanding his work ethic will give you the best business advice you need to stay on the right track.
One can learn plenty from the self-made billionaire, from business productivity to self-improvement. Here are the top six life and business advice from Elon Musk.
1. Have a goal
As a visionary, Elon always had big goals; always “thinks big.” From globalizing e-payments, normalizing speedy self-driving electric cars and redefining the clean-energy game, to setting foot and living on Mars, he isn’t afraid to face challenges that others deem impossible.
“People work better when they know what the goal is and why.”
Goals should be big and realistic. Musk’s computer skills and passion took him from his birthplace which is Africa, to college in Canada.
He was a gifted engineer who’s willing to risk time, money and effort to build companies that he believed would help the world advance.
2. Plan efficiently
Big dreams shouldn’t come out of thin air. The dreams he had were fueled by his passions and skills, or skills he’s willing to hone and acquire. Every step was calculated and controlled.
“It’s okay to have your eggs in one basket as long as you control what happens to that basket.”
Elon is known to be an excessive planner. It’s also important to note that although he had huge goals, he started small. Even PayPal didn’t start out as the revolutionary e-payment giant it is today. He worked on X.com first then merged it with Confinity to form PayPal. He then sold it to eBay. After that, he used the money to buy Tesla Motors, create SpaceX and start other ventures that contribute to clean energy.
3. Be open to criticism
Ideas, especially big ones, will always have flaws. It’s good to spot them early on.
“I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.”
Get as much advice and feedback as possible from people you respect and trust. Never take anything personally, and always be thankful when someone points out a flaw in your plans or gives you advice.
4. Focus on signal over noise
Although Elon is now running multiple companies in different industries, he’s still an engineer. Don’t try to dip your toes in multiple industries at the same time. Avoid working on different projects. Start with mastering one thing first.
“Focus on signal over noise. Don’t waste time on stuff that doesn’t actually make things better.”
Focusing on one project doesn’t mean you can’t multitask. But you have to work smarter and harder than everybody else, focus on one niche first, rather than trying to run around doing multiple things at the same time.
5. Don’t be afraid of failure
Failure is a normal part of life, and it’s a normal part of growth. Embrace it and learn from it. One of the most inspiring things about Elon is his openness to being wrong. This is called a growth mindset and it’s a trait that allows you the ability to learn. When you have a growth mindset, you approach failure from a different angle and work on it until you find a solution.
“Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.”
The engineer believes that even when one of his projects becomes successful, there will always be a cheaper, faster, or better way of doing things.
6. Try new things
Trying new things means you have the capability to adapt. Elon first learned about rockets from reading books. His wide understanding of many subjects, like science, computer science, math, engineering and physics, allowed him to master aerospace engineering.
“Some people don’t like change, but you need to embrace change if the alternative is disaster.”
Even when running his companies today, he still continues to learn – and in the most unconventional ways, too. One example would be the famous story about him cornering an engineer in the SpaceX factory and grilling the man with questions. The engineer thought he was being tested, it turned out that Elon was trying to get everything he can from the engineer until he learned ninety percent of what he knew.
In this scenario, you can see that while running SpaceX, Elon dove into a lot of materials and areas. This includes reading books, interviewing NASA experts, hanging out with entrepreneurs in the same industry and learning from his staff. He’s gathered a broad knowledge of the subject that will equip him with the skills to design a rocket that can potentially transport humans to Mars.
7. Try to be extraordinary
Always challenge the norm. Elon is famous for knowing everything about a subject first before diving in and then challenging it. There will always be something to fix, something to improve. If you embark on your career or your business with this mindset, you’re setting yourself up for extraordinary success.
“I think it’s possible for ordinary people to choose to be extraordinary.”
If you have a goal, you have to be willing to go all the way to reach it. If you have big goals, you have to stop thinking small. Start aligning your thoughts and actions with your goals. From mastering a subject to breaking boundaries, you’re bound to succeed in any career or business you choose.