“Good ideas are always crazy until they’re not.” Even though the quote comes from Larry Page, it greatly encapsulates the life of Elon Musk portrayed in the book. I have to say that Ashlee Vance did an absolutely splendid job on making a chronological, short history of Elon’s life.
In the beginning, the book goes into Elon Musk’s childhood, his family life and tells how he, moved to Canada and, eventually, to the United States. Ashlee details how Elon got into computers and wrote his first game. Then the story dives into his entrepreneurial life and here you can get to know how he started his first venture in Zip2, a company which was kind of like Google Maps and Yellow Pages. Then it tells more about the next firms such as PayPal Tesla and SpaceX, Solar City and everything else.
The book provides his daily routine and offers great insight into his work ethos. I’ll just give you a quote from the book which depicts his habit: “ Musk never seemed to leave the office. He slept, not unlike a dog, on a beanbag next to a desk. Almost every day, I’d come in at seven thirty or eight a.m., and he’d be asleep right there on that bag” – one former colleague recalled. “Maybe he showered on the weekends, I don’t know.” Musk asked those first employees of Zip2 to give him a kick when they arrived, and he’d wake up and get back to work.”
Next, you can see how he makes his decisions and observe his thought process. You get to feel what Elon’s personality is and how he is like other CEOs of companies. The book also helps to understand his idea of long-term goals which most of us really don’t think about. That’s why he started SpaceX (to colonise Mars as a B plan for our civilisation) and launched Tesla project (to make the US energetically self-sufficient from petrol states). He is doing something because he truly believes in it.
When it comes to Tesla, there were things I didn’t know. I had huge respect for him for what he had accomplished, but really the book gave me a much broader perspective on that. Elon Musk has changed the automotive industry with electric cars. Model S released in 2012 became the best car in history. Moreover, model S released became the best car in the history of the motor industry. In order to support his cars, Elon set up a bunch of charging stations all over the US and the major motorways. And that’s not only that, the car actually gets better over time because of its software updates via the internet connection. It’s also worth to say that, when it comes to energy efficiency, Model S is three to four times more efficient than internal combustion engines (energy evaporates as heat) and they can be powered from solar panels. Here I’d like to provide next quote from the book: “While the owner slept, Tesla’s engineer’s tapped into the car via the Internet connection and downloaded software updates. When the customer took the car out for a spin in the morning and founded working right he was left feeling if it magical elves had done the work. Tesla soon began showing off its software skills for a job other than making up for mistakes. He put out a smartphone app that let people turn on their air conditioning or heating from afar, and to see where the car was parked on a map. Tesla also began installing software updates that imbued the model S with new features. Overnight the model S sometimes got new traction control for highway driving or it could suddenly recharge much faster than before or possess a new range of voice controls. Tesla had transformed the car into a gadget, a device that actually got better after you bought […] it changes everything about transportation computer on wheels.”
Another famous project which made Elon a household name is SpaceX which is a rocket company that became the first independent company in history which docked with the International Space Station. Unlike other space companies, SpaceX develops every single part of the rockets in-house and the factory that they have is able to save so much money that the cost of flight might be halved or even more. SpaceX now has become a big game changer doing orbital flights cheaper, with better technology. Currently, SpaceX is building satellites for worldwide internet system and probably a lot of other things, as well as, launching satellites and cargo ships to the International Space Station on its own.
On the other hand, there are a lot of parallels drawn to Steve Jobs and I mean by that all great characteristics as well as all dark sides. The book provides many stories about Elon’s behaviours towards his employees. “The employees want to be close to Musk, but they also fear that he’ll suddenly change his mind about something and every interaction with him is an opportunity to be fired. Elon’s worst trade by far, in my opinion, is a complete lack of loyalty or human connection, said one former employee. Many of us worked tirelessly for him for years ever tossed to the curb like a piece of litter without a second thought. Maybe it was calculated to keep the rest of the workforce on their toes and scared. Maybe he was just able to detach from human connection. What was clear, is the people who work for him were like ammunition used for a specific purpose until exhausted and discarded”
Another situation was even crazier: “Musk used to run daily Google searches for new stories about Tesla. if you saw a bad story you ordered someone to fix it. even though the Tesla public relations people could you little to sway the reporters. one employee missed an event to witness the birth of his child. Musk fired off an email saying that is no excuse. I am extremely disappointed. You have to figure out where your priorities are. We’re changing the world and changing history and you either commit or you don’t. This is how the employee remembered the text.”
Based on that, I could say that these are copy-paste behaviours from Steve Jobs, but I can say once again – When you want to deliver perfection, you have to be straight, honest and brutal versus mediocrity or deviation. When you know that you are right, and he knew that, you can’t accept defections even if that means firing unsuited people. I don’t need to love that rule, but if I’d like to work with Elon you just have to accept it.
As my conclusion, the book is very well written and I would recommend it if you’re really interested in learning about Elon Musk’s life, whether it’s his childhood story, his current life, his successes and failures as a person and as a CEO of the company. Or maybe you’d like to know what one of the most visionary entrepreneurs thinks about the future?
Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future
by Ashlee Vance
Complexity of ideas
Size: 416 pages
Other information and reviews of this book on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25541028-elon-musk
Other useful links:
Elon Musk on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elon_Musk
An interesting interview with Elon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycPr5-27vSI&t=3243s
Elon Musk on Twitter: https://twitter.com/elonmusk