12 Lessons learned from Elon Musk

Back in the 80s, there was a series of crazy popular Gatorade commercials that told you to “Be Like Mike”, referencing the great Michael Jordan. These days, if you’re an entrepreneur, we suggest you replace Mike with Elon.

Elon Musk has a lot of characteristics that you should emulate if you want to have a successful startup and we’re going to talk about 12 of them below. So read up, and “Be Like Elon”!

  1. Stick-to-it-iveness: Once Elon sets his sights on accomplishing something, nothing can budge him from his mission. He never lets obstacles stand in his way; he just keeps on moving forward or if necessary, goes around those obstacles to get it done His attitude is that If something is important enough to you and is one of your dreams, you should try as hard as you can to succeed, even if everyone else says you’re likely to fail.
  2. Work Ethic: Elon has an insane work ethic, often clocking over 100 hours a week. If you’re going to have a successful startup, you’re going to need to put in the hours. He does it for himself, but it also sets an example to his team when the boss does at least as much and usually more than those working for him.
  3. Leadership: He believes that you should hire young, fresh talent with energy and ideas and trust them to do their jobs. He also believes that you have to love your brand and demonstrate to your whole company that they need to love it too. He treats customers and coworkers like family and really treats them well. He leads by example and his followers definitely drink his kool-aid.
  4. Opportunities: He looks for and sees opportunities everywhere. Even complaints are “a sign that there is a problem to be solved”. If you investigate the complaints out there (and inside your company), you often find innovative ideas that solve real issues. This is something that every entrepreneur could be doing – you can read complaints made about other companies/products online (even just on Amazon) to see what people don’t like about products that are currently available to find opportunities for better, competitive offerings. He also says you should capitalize on opportunities and take risks early in your career as when you get older, more people are impacted by your risk-taking (family and children).
  5. Details: He gets into the weeds. He doesn’t like to manage from the clouds, because he believes that the only way you can know the details of your innovation is to work the details yourself. Unlike many visionaries, he can think at the system level of design, not just at the big picture. When entrepreneurs start, they often do pretty much everything at the company as they can’t afford to have a big group of employees. As the company starts to grow, however, many founders take a step back, and while it is good to be able to have time to do more strategic thinking, there is also a lot to be learned by spending a day or 2 a month working side by side with those dealing with the details.
  6. Self-reflection and self-evaluation: He is constantly thinking about what he’s done and how he could be doing it better. Self-analysis and critical evaluation of his own actions and activities are key success factors in his mind.  You can do this too. Consider 360 reviews or even a business coach who can help you identify your strengths and opportunities for improvement.
  7. Social contract: He believes strongly in personal integrity and in finding a positive cause in the work he does. He aims to solve problems that have challenged mankind and to help people, not just to make money for himself. Make this a part of your corporate culture; even companies that do not solve a social problem can still have as a corporate objective to be good corporate citizens and to reward socially positive behaviour.
  8. Excellence: He sets extremely high expectations for himself, his products and his team and will not settle for anything less than excellence because he believes that excellence is what sets you apart from others who are happy with “good enough”. It is excellence that makes companies great instead of good.
  9. Innovation: He does not believe in following trends as he thinks that the best companies are ones that do something completely new or different. He doesn’t just want to do the same thing but better; he wants to do something that no one has ever done before. He says that he is “anti-ordinary” and it shows. (his new son’s name is definitely NOT ordinary: X Æ A-12.
  10. Preparation: He does his homework. He’s very prepared and doesn’t waste time in meetings or conversations because he has to be brought up to speed first. He’s already done the background work so his interactions can be efficient and effective.
  11. Decision-making: He makes the tough decisions because he won’t compromise on his vision. If work doesn’t lead to better products or services, he has no issue stopping it immediately. That goes for product development, advertising, even whole companies. He is not afraid to make hard decisions because he is not interested in wasting precious time and resources on something that doesn’t work. You can do this too. Don’t beat around the bush and don’t throw good money after bad as they say. The cost is sunk. If it’s not going to make things better, walk away.
  12. Appreciation: He celebrates his successes with his employees and thanks them. The old expression says…Take the time to smell the roses. Appreciate that you had help planting and watering them and that now they are beautiful and fragrant. Then get back to work!

 

Elon Musk has people who love him, and those who hate him. But even his detractors can’t argue with his successes.  If you “Be like Elon” and adopt some of his best characteristics, you too will have an excellent chance of success.

Elisa Palter

About the Author

Elisa Palter

Elisa has co-founded and successfully exited 2 small businesses, written business cases for Harvard Business School, and was part of the team that founded a prestigious Liberal Arts College overseas. She assists select NFP organizations with their messaging and strategy, and coaches women who are looking to become entrepreneurs. Elisa is passionate about entrepreneurship and its ability to empower individuals, particularly women.

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