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Pedro Lopes Notes

Musk's Biography: Why It's Interesting

I’ve been hearing the latest Elon Musk biography 1 on audiobook, and just like Ashlee Vance’s book1, I’m finding it incredibly interesting. Here’s why:

Possibilities, Monty Python, costs, whys and whos

The action on potential

I find his path inspiring. It makes me want to create and do things, and shows that many things that are thought to be impossible, are actually achievable. There is a whole realm of opportunities waiting to be grabbed, and his life demonstrates just that.

There is a cost though. If it were that easy, everyone would do it.

The defining characteristics

The book goes deeper into the unique aspects that allow Musk to be an extreme overachiever, but also the personal and professional costs those same aspects inflict.

Musk’s capacity to take pain, risk, stress and adversity is staggering. I’ve been reading several biographies over the past years and met quite a few people throughout my life. I can only find a handful of them that are even comparable.

The relentless pursuit, sometimes maniacal, of product quality, functional and non-wasteful design, and effective manufacturing. All in the name of a greater objective, larger than any single human being or corporation.

The relationships

The book dives into the relationships that shaped Musk (for the better, for the worse, or both), the types of relationships he consistently attracted (which resonated with his personality and upbringing), and essential relationships that allowed him and his projects to thrive.

They come to further prove that no man or woman is an island. You can’t succeed by your own.

The humor

Consistently throughout Musk’s life, there is a balance between dark and light, between lighthearted comedy and downright hell.

I’ve had a good laugh with some of the humorous sides though, such as when eels and hovercrafts were catered to one of his marriages, or when Blue Origin filed a formal protest against SpaceX to prevent the company from having exclusive use of a NASA launchpad, to which Musk replied that “if they do somehow show up in the next 5 years with a vehicle qualified to NASA’s human rating standards that can dock with the Space Station, which is what Pad 39A is meant to do, we will gladly accommodate their needs. Frankly, I think we are more likely to discover unicorns dancing in the flame duct.”

Shortly after, a SpaceX employee bought dozens of inflatable unicorns and took a picture of them standing in a flame duct 🦄

Musk’s algorithm

“The Algorithm”, is a distillation of lessons learned while relentlessly increasing production capacity, which Musk repeatedly preached on his enterprises:

  1. Question every requirement
  2. Delete any part of the process you can
  3. Simplify and optimize
  4. Accelerate cycle time
  5. Automate

1. Questioning requirements

It can be summarized into this: “The only rules are the ones dictated by the laws of physics. Everything else is a recommendation.”. It’s a recurrent theme.

Doesn’t come without a cost though: it is often associated with conflict and chaos.

About 2. Delete any part of the process you can

“Delete, delete, delete”

Optimization many times goes hand in hand with deletion. Deleting is hard. It requires letting go of past achievements, comfort, and acceptance that something is not coming back. Almost like a breakup.

3. Simplify and optimize

Goes hand in hand with deletion.

4. Accelerate cycle time

This is where intensity and being “hard core” are most leveraged, in my view. Again, with their pros and cons.

5. Automate

A more obvious one. Put a machine to do it. Easier said than done though.

Data points -> cause & effect probabilities

I’m fond of biographies because they provide several data points that I can later use in my life. This is, which set of actions preceded a given consequence. Of course the context matters, and surely no same action will lead to the same consequence, specially if made by different people.

But patterns start to emerge, and their respective probabilities. These help me solidify my own personal theories and strategies. Learning from others is important. It allows for “shortcuts” similar to the ones provided by good mentors.

To build these, I need data points, a lot of them.

That is why I like Isaacson’s biographies so much 2. This is this third book I read (or hear) from Walter Isaacson, and one of the things I enjoy most about his writing is how deep he goes into the details of someone’s story. I believe that details are important when portraying someone’s life. Sometimes, the smallest of events make an immense difference over someone’s path.

Just read / hear it

Love him, or hate him, I recommend Musk’s biography to just about anyone.

  1. This link is an affiliate link, and as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases whose commissions help this small establishment, at no additional cost to you

  2. Except Steve Jobs Biography 1, which I could not bear to finish. Jobs personality was a bit too much for me to handle