Elon Musk: The Scientist Behind the CEO:- Some say that he is an alien. Others say that he is an artificial intelligence robot. But when it comes down to it, Elon Musk is a scientist. One who is conquering the business world.
Elon Musk has become a futuristic industrialist. A person who took his coding skills to start building machines. Most people don’t realize that Elon Musk is a scientist. Even his own friends ask him who is the chief engineer for SpaceX not realizing it is Elon himself.
Elon Musk: The Scientist Behind the CEO
This article takes a look at Elon Musk sees the world through a scientific mind and how his scientific way of life fuels his businesses. We take a look at the two techniques that Elon Musk uses to teach himself about new subjects and industries.
From picking up books such as a Soviet Rocket Manual that taught him about rockets when he was starting SpaceX to surrounding himself with experts and people working in the field that can teach him about the subjects he wants to get into. This is the reason why he moved from Silicon Valley to LA. So he get close to people working in the space industry.
Elon Musk is a scientist and physicist on the inside and an engineer on the outside. So we will also take a brief look at the thinking process behind physics and the techniques that anyone can use to view the world.
Elon Musk says that he approaches things with a physics framework even when it comes to understanding the future. Saying that if you want to understand or predict the future then look to physics.
When Elon Musk was a kid, he was scared of the dark. But then he understood that dark just means an absence of photons in the visible wavelength. And that it is silly to be afraid of a lack of photons. That is how he viewed and explained darkness to himself when he was just a kid.
And Elon Musk does this with maybe everything that he thinks about. Breaking everything down. Even down to the fundamental laws of physics. Here are some other examples of the different ways Elon Musk views the world through the mind of a physicist.
When describing schools and education he says that learning is the downloading of data and algorithms into our brains and that schools are doing a bad job of it so he started his own school.
On the Joe Rogan podcast when talking about the birth of his son Elon Musk compares the baby to the work he has been doing on artificial intelligence and neural nets saying that an AI neural net is trying to copy what a human brain is doing and you can see it learning quickly just like a baby.
When it comes to happiness, the equation is reality minus expectations. In describing our way of thinking and using devices, Elon Musk compares us to an operating system with bandwidth.
Saying that while computers can talk to each other at a trillion bits per second, we use our thumbs to interact with our phones at 10 to 100 bits. That is why he started NeuroLink to connect our brains to computers.
Elon Musk says that the best piece of advice is to keep thinking about how you could be doing things better and keep questioning yourself. And he uses the engineering term of creating a feedback loop. Where you take what you have done and adjust how you could be doing it better. As people will tell you what you want to hear not what is best.
Elon Musk Two Method Of Learning
There are two techniques that Elon Musk uses to teach himself new subjects. One is through simply picking up books and the other is surrounding himself with smart people.
Let’s first quickly take a look at how he has used books to form the wisdom and fuel for the businesses he has built.
By Reading Books
When he was a kid, Elon Musk would read up to 10 hours a day, saying he was raised by books. He even read two sets of encyclopedias which gave a good view of how different things could be connected.
Elon Musk’s formal education includes a degree in physics and one in economics. There was also the Ph.D. in material sciences and physics that he dropped out from. Yet his first startups out of college were all based on him coding and programming during the early days of the internet.
Elon saw a computer for the first time when he was 10 years old. The first computer he got came with workbook lessons on programming in a language called basic which would take six months to finish. Elon stayed up for three days straight and the whole 6 month course.
When it came time to bring banking online which Elon was working on when starting X.com which would later become PayPal Elon did not have much experience in banking. So Elon bought a book on the banking industry to understand how it worked.
When it came to starting SpaceX, Elon would study a Soviet rocket manual and from friends, he would borrow books such as rocket propulsion elements and the fundamentals of astrodynamics and he would study for months.
Elon Musk figures out what he needs to study so that he can become an expert and get started working on new projects. This is the same method he used when he was a kid in school.
Elon did not always get good grades. Especially in subjects where he couldn’t see the point of learning them. These would be mandatory subjects such as Africans. For those subjects, he would work the minimum to get a passing grade. Saying that he would rather spend his time playing video games, coding, or reading books.
When it came to subjects that were important to him such as physics and computers, Elon would get the highest grade. He focuses on studying what is needed.
Here are some of the books that Elon Musk recommends. There is the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. A book called Ignition which is about rockets, and the biography of Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson.
One book that Elon Musk highly recommends is called structures or why things don’t fall down. This book gives an easy-to-understand explanation of structural engineering terms based on how day-to-day objects hold together which can include anything from bridges to eggshells.
The foundation books are a sci-fi series set in a future where human civilization is a space fairing society. It is a book series that Elon recommends people read. He learned from reading them that you should work on things that will prolong civilization and reduce the probability of there being a dark age.
Elon’s way of thinking about pushing humanity forward and doing what is best for humankind comes from books and not just through the foundation books but also from reading comic books when he was younger as the stories in them were always about saving the world.
Even though Elon Musk was raised by books and used them when he started to teach himself new subjects, he was not afraid to get his hands dirty and figure things out by experimenting.
For kids these days who are inspired by space and rockets, it wouldn’t be so hard for them to get their parents to go on Amazon and buy a rocket kit that they could then build and launch. But for Elon Musk growing up in South Africa, they didn’t have the rocket kits that were available in the US. So Elon broke down the parts of a rocket kit. Figured out how to build his own. Mixing different chemicals that would fuel his homemade rocket kits.
In his college days to make some money, Elon would sell computer parts out of his dorm room. He would also build PCs and fix issues. This built up his computer hacking background as he was not afraid to just go and figure things out.
By Surrounding Himself With Smart People
The second way that Elon Musk teaches himself about a subject and an industry is by surrounding himself with smart people. Even if that means moving cities. After selling PayPal, Elon Musk moved from Silicon Valley down to LA. This was because LA would bring Musk closer to the space industry which was the next adventure that he wanted to tackle after PayPal.
Around LA, you had organizations that had set up their space efforts from Howard Hughes and the US Air Force to NASA. They all developed a lot of their aeronautical work here. This meant that there were a lot of experts that Elon could talk to.
One of the first things Elon did was to join the Mars society whose goal was to settle on Mars. The society already had experiments underway and even had a research center in the Arctic. Through the society, Elon also got to meet scientists who were working on Mars missions for NASA. Some of them would later become hired consultants that would teach and coach Elon for his jump into the space industry.
The books and being surrounded by experts is how Elon taught himself about the space industry. It is the same method that his cousins used to learn about the solar business. Elon’s cousins spent two years studying solar technology and the industry.
They went to events, studied research reports and interviewed people. All before starting solar city which Tesla later bought. They used the same techniques that Elon had used to become an expert in the space industry.
As Elon Musk started to hire engineers and build SpaceX, the knowledge the new employees brought would then get transferred into Elon’s own brain. These SpaceX employees would be experts in their fields and Elon figured he could absorb their knowledge which he did by quizzing each engineer about every specific part of the rocket that they were working on.
One employee said that Elon Musk would quiz you until he had learned 90% of what you knew. This made Elon Musk an aerospace expert beyond what most people had seen.
Elon’s Way Of Hiring People
When it comes to hiring people for his companies, Elon Musk surrounds himself with the best people. He is able to do this because of the futuristic tech that he keeps pushing to develop. But for someone who wants to work at Tesla or SpaceX, they not only have to be an expert in their specific field, they also need to know how the other parts on the machines they are building work as well.
Elon Musk expects everyone to be a chief engineer. They need to have at least a basic understanding of how the whole Rocket or car works. Just because an engineer has deep expertise in their specialized area of the rocket or car, they won’t be able to tell if the work that they are doing, the ideas, and the improvements they come up with are for the good of the product as a whole. Unless they know how the whole machine works.
Mistakes and design flaws happen when people don’t understand the systems working in the whole machine. SpaceX hires people who have been building physical things in their personal or professional life regardless of their job position.
Gwynn Shotwell who is the president and COO of SpaceX has a degree in mechanical engineering and a masters in applied mathematics. Elon says that most of his time about 80% of it is on engineering and design, not media or business-related things.
It is Gwen Shotwell who handles the day-to-day workings of SpaceX. This lets Elon focus on designing the rockets and motivating the engineering teams. Elon states that the path to the CEO’s office should not be through the finance or marketing departments but through the engineering and design.
But even the financial people at his companies have engineering backgrounds. The CFO of Tesla has degrees in economics and mechanical engineering and applied mechanics.
Continuing with Elon hiring and surrounding himself with the best some other notable mentions include in 2011 SpaceX hired Garrett Riseman a retired NASA astronaut. Even investors come with engineering backgrounds.
One of Tesla’s first investors was Valor Equity. Who specialized in making manufacturing more efficient. The managing director of operations Tim Watkins was sent to Tesla to work on the Roadster Production. Watkins has degrees in electrical engineering and industrial robotics. Everyone is an engineer.
If you want to understand and predict the future, then learn the thinking behind physics. This is what Elon Musk advises people when it comes to jobs in the future and choosing what to learn.
Elon says that he tries to use the tools of physics as much as possible and that using physics is a good framework for thinking. Let’s take a look at the main physics principle that shapes Elon Musk’s thinking.
Earlier, we showed how Elon broke down being afraid of the dark into its most basic element and this same way of thinking was used when it came to building battery packs for Tesla and launching his SpaceX business. It’s called reasoning from first principles.
The idea is not to follow trends. For example, being scared of the dark because others have said that there are monsters but instead breaking it down into the fundamental truths. There is just a lack of photons.
When it came to starting his own space rocket company, the problem was that rockets were too expensive and they have always been that way. But if you break it down into first principles, you then ask yourself what is a rocket made up of? There are aerospace-grade aluminum alloys, titanium, some copper, and carbon fiber. You can’t really break it down any further than that.
After breaking a rocket down into its most basic elements, Elon asked himself, what is the cost of those materials on the commodity market? The cost ended up being only 2% of the normal price of a rocket and this included the cost of fuel.
The reason why rockets are so expensive is that there are so many companies involved in making the different parts of the rocket and each company needs to make a profit for itself. There are even companies supplying the companies who are supplying the parts. The cost just keeps adding up.
Breaking things down like this using first principle reasoning does take greater effort as you need to understand the subject on a deep level. But you will end up with better results as you’ll be able to new knowledge and solutions from scratch.
SpaceX is a next-gen rocket company because they build their own rockets in-house, not relying on outside suppliers. Elon’s advice is to take the position that to some degree you are wrong and your goal is to work on being less wrong over time.
Try and predict the future and then make adjustments based on the errors you find from your previous predictions. Elon didn’t think that the boring company would work. He said they were going to dig a and that maybe it will work or maybe it won’t.
They ended up figuring it out as they went along. Experimenting and correcting along the way. And their first self-driving tunnel is almost complete under Las Vegas. Elon says that the toughest thing to do is to figure out what questions to ask.
Saying that once you have the right questions then the best answers become available. A good book for understanding the basics of physics and understanding the thinking behind it is Six Easy Pieces. Essentials of physics explained by its most brilliant teacher.
In the first piece, Feynman points out that things must be learned only to be unlearned again or more likely to be corrected. Saying that the definition of science is that the test of all knowledge is an experiment and that imagination is needed and it is key in coming up with the ideas and theories to experiment within the first place.
This can all be seen with SpaceX’s public test launches as the key to trying out new things that push innovation in the space industry. Seeing what works, pushing until their prototypes fail on purpose and exploring ways on how to improve their designs.
Elon Musk says that too many smart people go into finance, law, and internet-based companies and wants more people going into making things and innovating in manufacturing. Too many smart minds are working on making people click on ads.
There is a lot of progress that needs to happen in manufacturing things. Whether it is for high-tech products such as electric cars and space rockets or for more everyday items that can help push humanity forward.
The old ways of doing things need to be broken down into their most basic parts. Using the thinking methods of physics. And then built back up the experimental mind of an engineer.
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Information Source: Venture City