"Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future"

Just finished reading "Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future". Suddenly realized that I didn't read any extracurricular books in the second half of last year, and my year-end summary was also perfunctory (my fault...). The book is quite long, so I took some time in the evenings to read it, and it took me about half a month to finish. I feel that reading an e-book loses the sense of the length of the book. When reading, only the percentage in the bottom right corner can indicate the progress of reading. Plus, this time I only read for a while every night, not continuously, so I lost even more grasp of the length of the book.

Let's first organize Musk's career development process:

  • In 1995, he co-founded Zip2 with his brother, and the company was acquired in 1999.
  • In 1999, he co-founded online bank, which merged with Confinity in 2000 to become PayPal.
  • In 2002, he founded SpaceX.
  • In 2004, he joined the electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla.
  • In 2006, he assisted in the founding of solar energy services company SolarCity, which later became a subsidiary of Tesla called Tesla Energy.
  • In 2015, he co-founded OpenAI.
  • In 2016, he co-founded Neuralink, a neurotechnology company focused on developing brain-machine interfaces.
  • In 2016, he founded The Boring Company for the development of super high-speed transportation.
  • In 2022, he acquired Twitter.

Now let's get to the point.

I first heard about Musk from a middle school friend, who admired Musk and would tell me about his achievements when we chatted. Silicon Valley's Iron Man, Tesla electric cars, I don't remember if SpaceX was mentioned, because I didn't have a concept of these things at the time.

Later, when I was in college, I started using Twitter. During the time when Musk acquired Twitter, I was active on Twitter (I believe most of you reading this article are too). It was a time when Twitter was in chaos. Random bugs, occasional page crashes, and later the API blockage made me have a very negative impression of him. I think, as the book says, Twitter is an amplifier of Elon Musk's personal flaws and quirks. I also joined the wave of leaving Twitter and created an account on the Fediverse. I gradually became familiar with a small island in the Fediverse and made some online friends. When reading about Twitter in the book, it felt like these things happened not long ago, but unconsciously it has been over a year.

However, after reading the whole book, I sincerely admire Musk's lifelong ideals and the achievements he has made, and of course, the efforts and costs he has paid are beyond my imagination.

Before reading this book, I saw Musk praise WeChat and mention that he wanted to turn Twitter into a broader financial service and payment platform. I thought maybe he was inspired by WeChat. However, after reading the book, I learned that as early as the PayPal era, he wanted to create a social network that could subvert the entire banking system. You know, that was in the early 21st century...

In the exchange between Musk and Gates about philanthropy, this passage stood out to me:

How can someone claim to care deeply about addressing climate change and then cut their overall investment in the companies that contribute the most to it? That's hypocritical! If a sustainable energy company fails, do you still want to profit from it?

This is enough to show that Musk is a pure idealist.

What impressed me the most is Musk's five-step work method, which I will quote here:

  • Question every requirement. Whenever a requirement is made, the person making the requirement should be identified. Never accept a requirement from a department, such as the "Legal Department" or the "Security Department," without knowing the name of the person making the requirement. You should question it, no matter how smart the person is. The requirements made by smart people are the most dangerous because people are less likely to question them. This should be done continuously, even if the requirement comes from Musk himself. After questioning, everyone should improve the requirement to make it less foolish.
  • Remove everything you can from the requirement, even though you may have to add them back later. In fact, if the parts you add back in the end are less than 10% of what you removed, it means you haven't removed enough. (When I saw Manjusaka's tweet link, my first reaction was this...)
  • Simplify and optimize. This should come after step 2 because the common mistake people make is simplifying and optimizing a part or process that shouldn't exist in the first place.
  • Accelerate the turnover time. Every process can be accelerated, but only after following the first three steps. In the Tesla factory, I made the mistake of focusing too much on speeding up the production process, but later I realized that some processes should have been removed in the first place.
  • Automate. One big mistake I made at the Nevada factory and the Fremont factory was trying to automate every step from the beginning. We should have questioned all the requirements, removed unnecessary parts and processes, identified and dealt with problems, and then proceeded with automation.

Here are the implications of this work method that I also want to quote:

  • All technical managers must have hands-on experience, such as software team managers spending at least 20% of their time programming, and solar roof business managers spending time installing roofs themselves. Otherwise, just talking without practice is like a cavalry captain who can't ride a horse or a general who can't handle a sword.
  • "You good, me good, everyone good" is dangerous because people will no longer question their colleagues' work. People naturally tend not to kick off good colleagues, and this dangerous tendency must be avoided.
  • It's okay to make mistakes, but it's not okay to refuse to admit mistakes.
  • Never ask your team to do something you wouldn't do yourself.
  • When solving a problem, don't just talk to the relevant managers you directly manage. In-depth research requires cross-level communication, go directly to your subordinates' subordinates to communicate.
  • When recruiting, look for people with a good attitude. Skills can be taught, but changing a person's work attitude is much more difficult, you have to "change their mind".
  • A sense of urgency is the rule of our company's operation.
  • The only rules to follow are the rules derived from the laws of physics, everything else is just suggestions.

In the game "Low Model Battle," there is a life lesson, which includes the following points:

  • Empathy is not an asset for a company: Empathy is not conducive to conducting business activities.
  • Treat life as a game to play.
  • Don't be afraid of failure: When you are used to failure, you will participate in every game with less negative emotions. Fearless people are willing to take bigger risks.
  • Take the initiative: You can never win unless you take the initiative to develop a strategy.
  • Optimize the strategy for each turn.
  • Double down.
  • Allocate resources well for battle (the most common is to allocate resources such as time and money reasonably).
  • Play the game in moderation.

We cannot obtain Musk's personal character and experiences, but we can learn something from his methodology to a greater or lesser extent.

His attention to detail and hands-on attitude also left a deep impression on me. I remember last year when Musk visited China, there were many memes circulating on the internet, on one side he was getting along with the workers, on the other side...

I won't go into things that everyone knows.

I'm not interested in Musk's romantic history and who he had children with, so I won't mention it in this book review.

As for his ideological tendencies, anti-awakening, and right-wing thoughts, they are indeed beyond my knowledge, and I currently have no interest or energy to understand them, so I will skip this topic for now.

So, this book review is almost over. Through reading this biography, I have a more three-dimensional understanding of Musk. Finally, allow me to quote Gates' words and the last words of the book as the conclusion:

You can have whatever view you want about Elon's approach, but in this age, in terms of pushing the boundaries of science and innovation, nobody does more than he does. --Bill Gates

Sometimes, the great innovators are the children who dance with risks, refusing to be tamed. They may be reckless, awkward in their dealings, and sometimes even cause crises, but perhaps they are also crazy—crazy enough to believe that they can really change the world.

Thank you for reading, although probably no one will read it.

Musk's career development process reference: Wikipedia (too lazy to look it up in the e-book, just copied from Wikipedia...) -

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