How To Learn Like Elon Musk
"When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favour." - Elon Musk
Elon Musk has built four multibillion dollar companies in different fields - PayPal in Software, Solar City in Energy, Tesla in Transport, and SpaceX in Aerospace - and is considered by many to be one of the greatest entrepreneurs in the world.
More recently, he co-founded Neuralink, a neurotechnology startup company which aims to integrate the human brain with AI and has also mapped out a high-speed transport system known as Hyperloop.
For a guy in his mid 40’s he’s certainly not doing badly!
In fact, Musk is changing the world - and he’s certainly worth learning from.
Musk was born on June 28, 1971, in Pretoria, South Africa, the son of Maye Musk a Canadian model and dietician and Errol Musk, a South African electromechanical engineer, pilot and sailor.
When he was 10, young Elon developed an interest in computing with the Commodore VIC-20, and taught himself to program by age 12.
And his entrepreneurial edge was there from early on as he sold the code for a video game he built called Blastar to a magazine for $500!
Musk was certainly an unusual child and he was bullied heavily throughout his youth. Poor Elon was once hospitalized when a group of boys threw him down a flight of stairs and beat him unconscious…but I wonder who’s laughing now!
In 1989, aged 17, Musk enrolled in Queen's University, Ontario and two years later, he transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned two Bachelors degrees – in Physics and Economics.
At age 24, he moved to California to start a PhD in Applied Physics and Materials Science at Stanford University, but left the program after just two days, to start a company with his brother Kimbal.
Clearly, school was out for Elon, and it was time to change the world!
In 1995, Musk and his brother started web software company Zip2 and they sold to Compaq four years later for $341 million in 1999.
But there was no wild partying for Elon, because with some of the funds from the sale of Zip2, he founded X.com, an online financial services and e-mail payment company, just one month later.
One year after that, Musk’s X.com merged with Confinity, founded by Max Levchin, Peter Thiel, and Luke Nosek. The newly formed company was renamed PayPal in 2001, focusing on the money transfer service we all know and love.
When Paypal was acquired by eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002, Musk received a cool $165 million…but once again, he didn’t stop there.
In fact, in the time since Paypal was sold, Musk has built another three multibillion-dollar companies - Solar City, Tesla and SpaceX – and has grown into an entrepreneurial legend of our time.
From taking humans to Mars to creating renewable energy for our planet and preventing an AI crisis, Musk has taken on some of humanity’s biggest challenges…and who knows what he’ll do next!
As with all modern success stories, people have studied the hell out of this guy to try and work out what his secret sauce is.
Some point to his Spartan work ethic (he works 80-100 hour weeks), others to his ability to set radically bold visions for the future.
But, if you listen to his interviews and read a few of the articles, videos, and books about Musk, one thing stands out.
He’s the ultimate MetaLearner.
His current expertise ranges from rocket science, engineering, physics, and artificial intelligence to solar power and energy.
And he didn't learn most of this stuff in school!
But what’s most remarkable, is his ability to apply what he's learned - going into industries that have been around for centuries and turning them on their head.
Here are three tips you can take away from Musk to pour rocket fuel on your own learning and take it into the stratosphere:
"Boil things down to their fundamental truths and reason up from there"
Musk is best known for deconstructing problems according to fundamental principles and is fond of physics because it encourages this type of thinking.
He has previously said: "Knowledge is a semantic tree – you need to understand the fundamental principles, the trunk and branches, before you get into the details, the leaves, or there's nothing for them to hang onto."
Before taking on any endeavour, or diving into any field of knowledge, make an effort to understand what the most important pillars of that field are.
Once you do this, everything you come across will make sense within the context of these key principles, which will accelerate your learning like nothing else.
"What makes innovative thinking happen?...I think it's really a mindset. You have to decide."
As someone who has built companies in four industries, Musk is no stranger to innovation, often applying core principles from one field in different contexts.
His approach simply involves asking the following two questions:
1. What does this remind me of?
2. Why does it remind me of it?
By constantly asking yourself these two questions, you begin to make connections across traditional boundaries that others can only dream of, accelerating your learning and transforming your life.
"I think that's the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself."
Despite being one of the most successful entrepreneurs on the planet, Musk is his own harshest critic and constantly seeks out feedback from friends and colleagues on how he can improve.
This attitude of questioning and continuous improvement can also be seen in the way that he’s often started his next venture immediately after selling his old companies for millions of dollars.
While you may never reach the heights of Musk, if you apply this type of rigorous self-questioning to any project in learning or life, and surround yourself with people who challenge you, you’ll be streets ahead of the competition.
1) Superintelligence - Nick Bostrom
Musk once said that AI is "potentially more dangerous than nukes." To find out why, he says it's worth reading Bostrom's "Superintelligence," a book that makes the daring inquiry into what would happen if computational intelligence surpassed human intelligence.
2) The Foundation Trilogy - Isaac Asimov
In a 2013 interview, Musk said his passion for technology was heavily influenced by his time spent reading science fiction, especially Asimov's "Foundation" series, which centres on the fall of the Galactic Empire, crumbling after twelve thousand years of rule.
3) Benjamin Franklin: An American Life
Musk has said on numerous occasions that that Ben Franklin is one of his biggest heroes. In Franklin's biography, "you can see how he was a real entrepreneur," Musk says in an interview with Foundation. "He started from nothing. He was just a runaway kid."
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