Review: Elon Musk: Inventing the Future

Elon Musk: Inventing the Future
Elon Musk: Inventing the Future by Ashlee Vance

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So often, we look to our leaders for big ideas, for revisions, for ways to think about our world and aspire to be better. For example, John F. Kennedy’s “We choose to go to the moon, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.” I have been reminded repeatedly, in recent days, that we currently lack public figures to whom we can look for aspirations and hopes.

Elon Musk is a notable exception. See his 45 minute TEDtalk interview from 2017, below.…

In particular, I love his statement about seeking positive change and looking for opportunities to “accelerate the inevitable.”

Reading the biography of Elon Musk, for me, recalls stories of Steve Jobs: starting from inauspicious beginnings, being both visionary and unreasonable in the pursuit of a singular vision. We read about his days, decades ago, of creating a startup about indexing businesses that morphs into an online payment scheme, how it competes with, then partners with PayPal. Then, through round-the-clock effort, forceful and sometimes abrasive leadership, pushes his small team to amazing achievements. Sound familiar?

Furthermore, he takes the millions he made from PayPal and plows it back into his childhood dreams: electric vehicles, space rockets in the service of making mankind a multi-planetary species, and now solar power. While his acquaintances look on and laugh at his folly, his persistence, effort, connections, and some amount of luck eventually pay off.

It’s amazing to see how close he came to bankruptcy, not being able to meet payroll for Tesla employees the following month, as he pursued his dream.

I also particularly enjoyed the passages on sending his engineers to Texas, and later, an island in the South Pacific, with prototypes of rockets that routinely blew up and were painstakingly put back together for another trial, on a shoestring. Also stories about how he pushed his engineers to throw out all assumptions about spaceflight, use commercial parts, set unreasonable deadlines, and build a rocket that would be 1/10 or less of the cost of a NASA or Russian launch.

And, he’s still at it, with announcements about the Hyperloop: a 700 mph vaccuum-tube-and-maglev hi-speed transport, and the Boring Company: how he’s planning to drill tunnels under Los Angeles to dramatically improve commute times. Its crazy, until he makes it happen, and then in hindsight, it will have been “obvious” to everyone to do it that way.

I love this guy. Warts and all. It’s not MY leadership style: making unreasonable demands of employees, pushing them to the breaking point, firing them and finding younger, hungrier partners, pissing-off collaborators in pursuit of a vision, but it sure works for him … sometimes.

CMIO’s take? Set a strong vision and pursue it with everything. Grit pays off. Sometimes you should scale your dreams by 10X. If you succeed, wow! Even if you fail and only achieve 4x or 5x, it can still be leaps and bounds beyond succeeding at a “reasonable” goal. And, it is good to read and think about those achieving success in other industries and getting out of your own head.

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Author: CT Lin

CMIO, UCHealth (Colorado); Professor, University of Colorado School of Medicine

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