The Elon Musk method
He symbolized Iron Man from the Marvel films, showcased all major car brands with a superior electric car and radically simplified international payment transactions with PayPal. Elon Musk is probably the most imaginative entrepreneur of his generation. And it doesn't stop there: Musk continues to look for ways to improve the world with innovations that initially sound futuristic, but grow into deadly serious mega projects. The secret behind Elon Musk's successes? It's not a question of money, or race, or luck. It's in his brain and the way he thinks with it: the Elon Musk method.
Entrepreneur, innovator, world improver
Calling Elon Musk an entrepreneur is like calling Johan Cruijff a deceased athlete. In fact it is true, but a apt description would sound different. In the late 1990s, the South African-born American-cum-Canadian made his first fortune during the rise of the Internet. Rather than use this fortune to amass much more money in the same industry, he chose to use his resources for a better world.
Many of Musk's initiatives roughly consist of either innovative solutions for a far-reaching social problem, or completely new approaches to a presumed status quo. But what kind of initiatives should you think about?
A Better World: The Hyperloop and Underground Highways
The Dutch traffic jam problem is tough, but nothing compared to the traffic congestion in America. Around cities such as Los Angeles, the major highways are jammed from four in the morning. Commuters are already accepting that they are away from home from four in the morning until nine in the evening. Real solutions are yet to come and in the meantime the average American will have to be happy with an extra lane or a Carpool Lane.
If it's up to Elon Musk, the global traffic jam problem is a problem that needs to be solved. People today spend a disproportionately large part of their lives in traffic jams and that affects everyone's enjoyment of life. The solution, according to Musk, is fairly simple: if there is no more space above the ground, the future of our traffic lies underground. The advantage: you can build roads on top of each other (because then you just drill the next tunnel a few meters deeper) and you won't be bothered by buildings. Futuristic? Yes. Impossible? You would just be wrong about that.
An underground highway network is still mainly a thought experiment, but Musk has the possibilities intensively investigated and the first test has now been completed. An exponent of the underground highway is the Hyperloop: a hyper-fast train that propels itself by air pressure and that could take you from Los Angeles to San Francisco within thirty minutes. The potential implications of such an innovation are enormous. Imagine a world where travel time is almost non-existent and bridging distances becomes a small formality.
Don't just think, but act: SpaceX
Nice, all those thought experiments about futuristic highways, but thinking alone doesn't make the world better, does it? Nevertheless, Elon Musk's world-changing initiatives always start with his typical way of thinking. Musk approaches all his ideas with a mindset that First Principle Thinking is called. This way of thinking strips a particular problem statement of all the possible assumptions associated with it. It is a radical rethinking of all knowledge and information that is assumed to be known about a certain scenario.
Musk does not accept that things 'just happen to be'. He compares first principle thinking with looking beyond the Bible: if we had traditionally accepted everything in the Bible, we would never have left the atmosphere, for example. What first principle thinking yields in practice can best be demonstrated on the basis of perhaps Musk's most well-known company: SpaceX.
We are writing the beginning of the twenty-first century, just after Musk had become rich by, among other things, the sale of PayPal. Musk became interested in a manned mission to Mars, with the ultimate goal of colonizing a new planet as a long-term solution to the overpopulation on Earth. He soon learned that launching a spacecraft is prohibitively expensive and could only be done by NASA in the western world. We call this a status quo: a situation presented as an established fact that 'just happens to be'.
Whoever lets go of first principle thinking on such a status quo returns to basics: what do you actually need to launch a rocket into space? Fuel, a launch pad and the rocket itself. But what does such a rocket consist of? Musk concluded that if you added up the individual costs of all the required raw materials and ingredients, you would in principle only need a fraction of the original cost.
Everyone has their own Bible, and NASA's said that rocket launches had to cost a fortune. Musk didn't accept this, looked past barriers, founded SpaceX and walked his own path.
Failure is learning
Is every initiative by Elon Musk a success? No definitely not. Several SpaceX launches have failed, and the Hyperloop is far from being here. But by failing with an innovative idea, Musk argues, you slowly but surely get closer to your goal. Failure is learning; you must fail to move forward. Compare it to medicine: by testing countless cancer drugs, you may eventually come up with an ultimate cure. Have all other tests failed? No, because they eventually brought you to your goal.
A world according to Elon Musk
What will the Elon Musk method ultimately bring us? The core of Elon Musk's approach to problems is not wanting to make as much money as possible, or necessarily wanting to differ from your competitors, but ensuring that our descendants end up in a more beautiful world than ourselves.
Musk looks around and sees major social problems. The problem of running out of fossil fuels can only be solved by driving electric, so Musk introduced the Tesla. Ford, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz; they could have done it all but failed to do it. Musk is doing it, because it is must. The transport problem can only be solved by abandoning traditional roads and looking for new channels. And so comes a Hyperloop. And we will only solve the overpopulation by eventually colonizing another planet. Futuristic? Yes. Impossible? Look at the Tesla and judge for yourself.
Musk uses first principle thinking to design innovative solutions, and then do serious research and, in short, actually make it work. He creates his own trends and knows how to arouse the interest of countless fellow human beings worldwide. Because innovating and improving the world on a global scale, even Elon Musk cannot do it alone. Each trendsetter needs followers, who also believe that this generation can and should solve its own problems.
Want to learn more about Musk's management style? Then read the article 'Muskalicious management: 7 principles for the company of the future' on Bloomse.nl.