Elon Musk

Summary Written by Justin Gasbarre
“Do you think I’m insane?”

- Elon Musk, page 1

The Big Idea

Vision and Conviction

"His vision is so clear. He almost hypnotizes you."- Elon Musk, page 223

Vision Statements and Mission Statements…every business has them. What separates Musk’s companies from the rest is that his vision and his conviction is so intense and laser focused that he almost wills himself and his organizations to accomplish the incredible feats that they set out to achieve.

This conviction and drive hasn’t come without some difficulties. “People who know Musk well tend to describe him more as a general than a CEO” (220). Despite this fact, people who work with him and for him happily work the long hours, under extremely high expectations. And while he expects a lot, Musk is a leader that deeply cares about his people and the human race.

Vance writes, “I would argue, however, that his brand of empathy is unique. He seems to feel for the human species as a whole without always wanting to consider the wants and needs of individuals” (363). Musk’s vision is literally about impacting the human species as a whole. As we better understand the enormity of that, the better we’ll understand Elon Musk and truly appreciate what he has been able to do.

Insight #1


"What Musk would not tolerate were excuses or the lack of a clear plan."- Elon Musk, page 126

In learning about Musk’s ventures, beginning in his early years founding Zip2 and X.com, through SpaceX and Telsa, is that his expectation for results are sky high. He puts a tremendous amount of pressure on his people to get things done in a timeframe that seems completely insane to any “normal” person. But that seems to be how Elon operates and time and again, he gets the most out of his people. While he expects a lot, he easily puts in just as much, if not more, work as he asks of his employees. One of his team members remembers a time when they worked through the night saying, “He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty. He’s out there with his nice Italian shoes and clothes and has epoxy all over him” (127). There is nothing more engaging than seeing your leader in the trenches working and fighting alongside you.

The lesson here for me was that as a leader you can expect high standards and excellence out of your people, even at extreme levels, if you back it up by walking that same walk. Throughout the book, a lot is said about how hard he pushes his people, but time and again, they also mention that he sets the bar for that effort and those expectations.

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Insight #2


"For Elon, the word no does not exist, and he expects that attitude from everyone around him."- Elon Musk, page 67

The quote above is a constant theme throughout all of Musk’s business ventures and seemingly, in all situations that quote rings true. Whether he is recruiting a top engineer, pushing through a tight product deadline, or pitching investors, Elon does not take no for an answer. While this can be a tough pill to swallow for some of his employees, his vision, conviction, and work-ethic allow him to operate is such a manner. One of his employees said, “You don’t get to where Elon is now by always being a nice guy, and he was just so driven and sure of himself” (68).

A big take away from this section for me was that if you believe it can be done, don’t settle for anything less. He is so sure of the direction of his companies, his people’s abilities and what they are doing that he is simply pushing his people to be the absolute best they can be. That mindset from a leader is inspiring!

It is incredible to learn about successful business people like Elon Musk. They not only advance industry, they help others realize what is possible in this life. They are human just like you and me. They have to learn and fail multiple times before they find success. They simply push and persevere until it happens. Elon Musk has certainly done so, and Ashlee Vance did a great job capturing his story. Elon Musk continues to advance the world in massive groundbreaking ways. While, most of us are not Musk, it does make me think, wow we can we advance the world through our own small circles of influence?

Read the book

Get Elon Musk on Amazon.

Ashlee Vance

Ashlee Vance is an award winning feature writer for Bloomberg Businessweek magazine. Vance is also the host of the “Hello World” TV show. Previously, he worked for The New York Times and The Register.

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