What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Tesla Founder Elon Musk, by Michael Simmons
Michael Simmons writes:
What does this mean in our day-to-day life? When we’re jumping into a new field, we shouldn’t just take one approach or best practice. We should explore lots of different approaches, deconstruct each one, and then compare and contrast them. This will help us uncover underlying principles.
Step two of Musk’s learning transfer process involves reconstructing the foundational principles he’s learned in artificial intelligence, technology, physics, and engineering into separate fields:
- In aerospace in order to create SpaceX.
- In automotive in order to create Tesla with self-driving features.
- In trains in order to envision the Hyperloop.
- In aviation in order to envision electric aircraft that take off and land vertically.
- In technology in order to envision a neural lace that interfaces your brain.
- In technology in order to help build PayPal.
- In technology in order to co-found OpenAI, a non-profit that limits the probability of negative artificial intelligence futures.
Keith Holyoak, a UCLA professor of psychology and one of the world’s leading thinkers on analogical reasoning, recommends people ask themselves the following two questions in order to hone their skills: “What does this remind me of?” and “Why does it remind me of it?”
By constantly looking at objects in your environment and material you read and asking yourself these two questions, you build the muscles in your brain that help you make connections across traditional boundaries.
Now, we can begin to understand how Musk has become a world-class expert-generalist:
- He spent many years reading 60 times as much as an avid reader.
- He read widely across different disciplines.
- He constantly applied what he learned by deconstructing ideas into their fundamental principles and reconstructing them in new ways.
At the deepest level, what we can learn from Elon Musk’s story is that we shouldn’t accept the dogma that specialization is the best or only path toward career success and impact. Legendary expert-generalist Buckminster Fuller summarizes a shift in thinking we should all consider. He shared it decades ago, but it’s just as relevant today:
“We are in an age that assumes that the narrowing trends of specialization to be logical, natural, and desirable… In the meantime, humanity has been deprived of comprehensive understanding. Specialization has bred feelings of isolation, futility, and confusion in individuals. It has also resulted in the individual’s leaving responsibility for thinking and social action to others. Specialization breeds biases that ultimately aggregate as international and ideological discord, which in turn leads to war.”
If we put in the time and learn core concepts across fields and always relate those concepts back to our life and the world, transferring between areas becomes much easier and faster.
As we build up a reservoir of “first principles” and associate those principles with different fields, we suddenly gain the superpower of being able to go into a new field we’ve never learned before, and quickly make unique contributions.
I love this insight from Michael and believe in it very much. Elon Musk is obviously a master of "learning transfer," and this skill has yielded amazing dividends for him. Charlie Munger also identifies similar concepts of multiple mental models and "multi-disciplinary synthesis" as keys to breakthrough success. One thing I know for certain: reading (well and broadly) is the one greatest things a person can to do develop and benefit him or herself!
Steve Jobs used to say that creativity is just connecting things.
Perhaps that is what Elon Musk and Charlie Munger do so well its second nature to them.