Thoughts on Ashlee Vance's Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Furure

Elon Musk is determinate optimism. The sense that personal responsibility for the future of humanity is an acceptable worldview. The idea that you can make immense plans, go to the ends of the earth to make them work, and come out with your plan having succeeded.

The idea that it makes sense to strive for greater collective enlightenment makes sense to me. This manifests itself in transcendence, but could also be a focus on discovery and increasing human knowledge. The counterclaim that knowledge/truth isn’t the eventual goal is fine, since there are no clear theoretical foundations. But I feel this goal pretty hard and in the right places.

Elon grew up reading and reading and reading. Sometimes 10+ hours a day. This is a heuristic of mine, I keep getting hit with examples from Elon, Edison, Taleb, Warren Buffett, Munger, etc. There’s this back of my mind fear that reading is only heavily correlated with success, and that all of these people aren’t actually getting anything out of it. But I can see improvements (real) in my life - social exploration was real and happened. I got the smartest kids in the school to pay attention to my ideas, and can become friends with anybody. And so I maintain my trust in reading.

There are so many useful binaries. With Elon, you’re either trying to make something spectacular with no compromises or you’re not and you’re a failure. Elon’s seized an idea to live by and dedicated himself to it, not willing to waste a moment. In a world where there’s massive uncertainty regarding values and decisions, leadership is about conviction.

Expectations are a powerful driver of behavior. when your expectation is high people conform to it. You also conform to your own expectations for yourself. There’s a self reliance in Elon that makes it possible to take the pain of 2008.

The fact that the chance to build an electric car and company were there the whole time is a datapoint against the importance of timing and for the importance of resources, strategy and conviction. Tesla just wouldn’t exist if it hadn’t been made to happen and pushed through so decisively. It’s the kind of company that requires huge capital to start.

Again, we see the idea that an interdisciplinary education is critical. It’s clear that Elon has the fundamentals of programming, physics, every aspect of aeronautical engineering, business acumen, etc. down. He mastered the meta skill of learning from reading and learning from talking to brilliant people.

Musk just seems to possess a level of conviction so intense and exceptional as to be off-putting to some. This makes risk a non-issue. It makes pain a non-issue. Elon has the actually try.

Elon’s approach to goals is to refuse to compromise. He sets ridiculous goals and then expects himself and everybody around him to do whatever it takes to get there.

Foundational thinking - starting with the first principles of a problem and asking fundamental questions about it. Rethink assumptions that have been made.

We suffer from a collective fixation on short term inconsequential goals. We build incentive structures that enforce this fixation - this is a classic trap to fall into personally and collectively.