Do You Want To Be the Next Elon Musk? Here Is How.

Have you seen it? SpaceX’s reusable Falcon 9 historical landing on a drifting barge? In case you missed it — watch this one minute video (if you are really interested — here is the complete coverage of Falcon 9 launch and landing):

Now let’s take a deeper look into what just happened:

DISCLAIMER: Don’t try it — it’s purely a figurative example.

Imagine installing a swing in your backyard just under the second floor window of your house. Then you start swinging its seat back and forth. Then you go upstairs, open the window, lift your left leg and hold it into your hand. And finally you jump out of the window.

Your objectives:

  1. You must hit the swing’s seat (which is swinging) directly with one of your feet.
  2. After landing you must keep standing on that one foot while the swing is still swinging.
  3. You must perform hundreds of jumps like this without traumatizing yourself. And without missing. And without falling.

That’s exactly what Elon Musk has just done. Landing narrow vertical construction with an engine in its bottom part on a wallowing barge is actually much more complicated than jumping on a swinging swing seat from the second floor.

“I would like to die on Mars. Just not on impact.”
 — Elon Musk

Can we call him the Leonardo DaVinci of our days? Or he is just a guy that refuses to abandon his dreams? Whoever he is — a genius or a dream chaser (or perhaps both) — he inspires all of us to do things that seem impossible.

So what are his secrets? How can he achieve these “impossible” things? After Falcon’s 9 successful landings I was so excited that I decided break down all of his success principles, which he shares in many interviews into three fundamental ones. Here they are:

1. Set a goal of a planetary scale

Not smaller. If you set a business goal to earn dollars — that’s one thing. You are just a regular startup person. Prepare for a hard time because there are millions like you. But if you set a planetary scale goal — then you are not just a regular Joe who wants money. You are on a mission!

The future of humanity is going to bifurcate in two directions: Either it’s going to become multiplanetary, or it’s going to remain confined to one planet and eventually there’s going to be an extinction event.
 — Elon Musk

According to Elon Musk’s statements, his goal is to reduce the threats for humanity. And he sees them in:

  • danger of an extinction event (similar to what happened to the dinosaurs) — think of SpaceX and Mars colonization;
  • global pollution — think of Tesla and SolarCity;
  • probability of artificial intelligence usurpation — think of OpenAI.

What’s cool is that if you have a planetary scale mission — brilliant minds and talents will come to you on their own. Some of them will be willing to take part in your big plan. Without requiring a high salary. Or without expecting a salary at all. Many people will help and support you. Including those who manage funds. Because everyone wants to save the planet.

2. Think in a “first-principles” way

When you think of something impossible try to break it down to basic components. And then rethink how to assemble them in the right way. This is what Elon calls the first-principles approach.

It would have been natural for everyone to look at what the market had offered when Musk’s team was estimating the cost of SpaceX rockets. Existing rockets — produced by Americans, Europeans and Russians — were really expensive (I mean really). Trying to imitate them and to develop something similar would have been just an analogy approach. But the SpaceX team decided to use first-principles approach instead and tried to find out the cost of the essential parts of all rockets (like metal, fuel, etc). And then did the best to put them together in a smarter way. That is why the cost of SpaceX rocket is approximately 2% of an average rocket in the industry.

I think it’s important to reason from first principles rather than by an analogy.
 — Elon Musk in an interview with Kevin Rose

The same approach was used when creating the batteries for Tesla cars. Nobody believed Elon Musk would be able to produce cheap batteries. And it was the most essential part of the car’s cost. But using the first-principle approach Musk started pondering what every battery consisted of. The answer was aluminum, nickel and some other minor elements. He then analyzed the cost of those elements on the stock market. The cost was almost ten times cheaper. So the goal was to combine those basic elements in a smart way. And Elon and his team did it.

3. Iterate, iterate, iterate

Should you start your project if you are absolutely not sure in its success? Elon says that the success probability he estimated for both Tesla and SpaceX was about 10%. But he just felt it was the right thing to do for humanity even though it seemed almost impossible.

So Musk had only one way to go — to iterate. It works like this: “Launch-failure-fix, launch-failure-fix, … , launch-success”. And then further fixes and further iterations. Many times. Why use iteration instead of thinking it through? Because when dealing with innovations you just can’t predict what will work and what won’t. Because you are not God. You just don’t know. Neither you know whether your product will be demanded by the market. But you want to save humanity, don’t you? Then you are doing the right thing.

When Henry Ford made cheap, reliable cars people said, “Nah, what’s wrong with a horse?” That was a huge bet he made, and it worked.
 — Elon Musk

So do you want to become the next Elon Musk? Then forget about fame and commercial success. And think how to help humanity. If the task is too complicated — break it down using the first-principles approach. And then iterate. Many times. Then fame and money will eventually come. Because you are doing the right thing.

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