When it comes to getting inside the head of Elon Musk, few people can offer better insights than his wife of nine years.
In a recent post on Quora, Justine Musk answered the question, “How Can I be as great as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson?” Her tips not only help us understand Elon Musk, but give us a sketch of the characteristics that turn all entrepreneurs from “good” to “great.”
Have an extreme personality
Successful people have often spent a lifetime doing things differently than everyone else. Justin writes:
“Extreme success is different from what I suppose you could just consider ‘success’, so know that you don’t have to be Richard or Elon to be affluent and accomplished and maintain a great lifestyle. Your odds of happiness are better that way. But if you’re extreme, you must be what you are, which means that happiness is more or less beside the point. These people tend to be freaks and misfits who were forced to experience the world in an unusually challenging way. They developed strategies to survive, and as they grow older they find ways to apply these strategies to other things, and create for themselves a distinct and powerful advantage. They don’t think the way other people think. They see things from angles that unlock new ideas and insights. Other people consider them to be somewhat insane…..They are dyslexic, they are autistic, they have ADD, they are square pegs in round holes, they piss people off, get into arguments, rock the boat, laugh in the face of paperwork.”
Her point is reminiscent of Peter Thiel’s battle cry for contrarian thinking. In an article in the Intercollegiate Review, he writes:
“There is a strange phenomenon in Silicon Valley whereby many successful companies were started by people who seem to have Asperger’s syndrome or some other condition that makes social interaction difficult. I think we need to flip this around and see it as an indictment of our society. If you’re relatively well adapted socially, you will be talked out of any heterodox ideas you might have before they’re even fully formed. You will sense that the ideas are too weird, that they don’t fit in, that people will not like you if you espouse them, and so you should not pursue them.
…If there’s going to be progress, if there’s going to be new thinking in any direction, it requires something very different. But as our society has lost its transcendent reference points, we have come to look more and more to one another. And in the process we have become more lemming-like.”
In other words, if you want do something that no one has ever done before, don’t try to be one of the cool kids.
Build superhuman stamina
Resilience and stamina are among the most commonly cited traits of successful entrepreneurs. Robert Strauss perhaps put it best: “Success is a little like wrestling a gorilla. You don’t quit when you’re tired. You quit when the gorilla is tired.”
Justine observes that this kind of stamina comes first from taking care of your body:
“If you are not blessed with godlike genetics, then make it a point to get into the best shape possible. There will be jet lag, mental fatigue, bouts of hard partying, loneliness, pointless meetings, major setbacks, family drama, issues with the Significant Other you rarely see, dark nights of the soul, people who bore and annoy you, little sleep, less sleep than that. Keep your body sharp to keep your mind sharp. It pays off.”
Resiliency also requires the ability to reframe failure:
“[Entrepreneurs] do not fear failure—or they do, but they move ahead anyway. They will experience heroic, spectacular, humiliating, very public failure but find a way to reframe until it isn’t failure at all. When they fail in ways that other people won’t, they learn things that other people don’t and never will. They have incredible grit and resilience.”
As golf legend Bobby Jones once said: “I never learned anything from a match that I won.”
Have a single-minded obsession
If you follow your obsessions, you will find a problem that needs solving, and you will spend the rest of your life trying to solve that problem. Justine observes:
“If you’re not obsessed, then stop what you’re doing and find whatever does obsess you. It helps to have an ego, but you must be in service to something bigger if you are to inspire the people you need to help you (and make no mistake, you will need them). That ‘something bigger’ prevents you from going off into the ether when people flock round you and tell you how fabulous you are when you aren’t and how great your stuff is when it isn’t. Don’t pursue something because you “want to be great”. Pursue something because it fascinates you, because the pursuit itself engages and compels you. Extreme people combine brilliance and talent with an *insane* work ethic, so if the work itself doesn’t drive you, you will burn out or fall by the wayside or your extreme competitors will crush you and make you cry.”
Read the full quora post here, and share your thoughts below!