How Elon Musk Learns Faster And Better Than Everyone Else
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How is it even possible that Elon Musk could build four multibillion companies by his mid-40s — in four separate fields (software, energy, transportation, and aerospace)?
To explain Musk’s success, others have pointed to his heroic work ethic (he regularly works 85-hour weeks), his ability to set reality-distorting visions for the future, and his incredible resilience.
But all of these felt unsatisfactory to me. Plenty of people have these traits. I wanted to know what he did differently.
As I kept reading dozens of articles, videos, and books about Musk, I noticed a huge piece of the puzzle was missing. Conventional wisdom says that in order to become world-class, we should only focus on one field. Musk breaks that rule. His expertise ranges from rocket science, engineering, physics, and artificial intelligence to solar power and energy.
In a previous article, I call people like Elon Musk “expert-generalists” (a term coined by Orit Gadiesh, chairman of Bain & Company). Expert-generalists study widely in many different fields, understand deeper principles that connect those fields, and then apply the principles to their core specialty.
Based on my review of Musk’s life and the academic literature related to learning and expertise, I’m convinced that we should ALL learn across multiple fields in order to increase our odds of breakthrough success.
The jack of all trades myth
If you’re someone who loves learning in different areas, you’re probably familiar with this well-intentioned advice:
“Grow up. Focus on just one field.”
“Jack of all trades. Master of none.”
The implicit assumption is that if you study in multiple areas, you’ll only learn at a surface level, never gain mastery.