He was a symbol of Iron Man from the Marvel films, exposed all major car brands with a superior electric car and radically simplified international payment transactions with PayPal. Elon Musk is probably the most appealing entrepreneur of his generation. And that is not all: 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 the successes of Elon Musk? That is not a matter of money, or origin, or luck. It's in his brain and the way he thinks about it: the Elon Musk method.
Entrepreneur, innovator, world improver
Calling Elon Musk an entrepreneur is the same as calling Johan Cruijff a deceased athlete. In fact it is true, but a striking description would sound different. In the late 1990s, the American and Canadian born in South Africa amassed his first fortune during the rise of the Internet. Instead of using this fortune to collect 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 major social problem, or entirely new approaches to a status quo cast in concrete. But what initiatives should you think of?
A better world: the Hyperloop and underground highways
The Dutch traffic jam problem is tough, but nothing compared to the traffic jams in America. The major motorways around cities like Los Angeles get stuck from four in the morning. Commuters already accept that they will be away from four in the morning until nine in the evening. Real solutions are still to come and in the meantime, the average American should be happy with an extra lane or a Carpool Lane.
If it is 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 hurts everyone's enjoyment of life. According to Musk, the solution is fairly simple: if there is no more space above ground, the future of our traffic will be underground. The advantage: you can build roads one above the other (because then you just drill a few meters deeper into the next tunnel) and you will not be bothered by buildings. Futuristic? Yes. Impossible? You would just be mistaken about that.
For the time being, an underground motorway network is primarily a thought experiment, but Musk has the possibilities thoroughly investigated and the first test has since been completed. The Hyperloop is an exponent of the underground highway: a super-fast train that propels itself through air pressure and with which you could travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco within 30 minutes. The potential implications of such an innovation are huge. Imagine a world in which travel time hardly exists anymore and bridging distances becomes a small formality.
Not just thinking, but doing: SpaceX
Nice, all those thought experiments about futuristic highways, but the world doesn't get better from thinking alone, right? Nevertheless, the world-changing initiatives of Elon Musk always start with its typical way of thinking. Musk approaches all his ideas with a way of thinking First Principle Thinking is called. This way of thinking removes a certain problem from all possible assumptions that go with it. It is the radical reconsideration of all knowledge and information that is assumed to be known about a certain scenario.
Musk does not accept that things are 'just like that'. He compares first principle thinking to looking beyond the Bible: if we had traditionally assumed everything that is in the Bible, we would never have gotten out of the atmosphere, for example. What first principle thinking delivers in practice is best demonstrated by perhaps Musk's most famous company: SpaceX.
We are writing the beginning of the twenty-first century, just after Musk became rich through, among other things, the sale of PayPal. Musk developed an interest in a manned mission to Mars, with the ultimate goal of colonizing a new planet as a long-term solution for the overpopulation on Earth. He soon discovered that launching a spacecraft is priceless 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 'is just the way it is'.
Whoever lets go of thinking on such a status quo first principle returns to the basics: what do you actually need to shoot 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 the separate costs of all required raw materials and ingredients, you would in principle only need a fraction of the original costs.
Everyone has their own Bible, and NASA's stated that a rocket launch simply had to cost a fortune. Musk did not accept this, looked beyond barriers, founded SpaceX and walks his own path.
Failure is learning
Is every Elon Musk initiative a success number then? No definitely not. Several SpaceX launches have failed and the Hyperloop is not there yet. But by failing with an innovative idea, Musk argues, you are slowly getting closer to your goal. Failure is learning; you must fail to get ahead. Compare it with medicine: by testing countless cancer drugs, you may end up with the ultimate medicine. 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 essence of Elon Musk's approach to problems is not wanting to earn as much money as possible, or necessarily wanting to deviate from your competitors, but ensuring that our descendants end up in a better world than we do.
Musk looks around and sees major social problems. The problem of running out fossil fuels can only be solved by driving electrically, so Musk introduced the Tesla. Ford, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz; they could have done it all but left it. Musk is doing it, because it's just that must. The transport problem can only be solved by leaving traditional roads and looking for new channels. And so there will be a Hyperloop. And we only solve the overpopulation by finally colonizing another planet. Futuristic? Yes. Impossible? Look at the Tesla and judge for yourself.
Through first principle thinking, Musk designs innovative solutions, to subsequently do serious research into them and, in short, to really work on them. He creates his own trends and thus manages to arouse the interest of countless fellow people worldwide. Because innovating and improving the world on a global scale, not even Elon Musk can do that alone. Each trendsetter needs followers, who also believe that this generation can and must 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 futureon Bloeise.nl.