Advancing humanity near singlehandedly requires unique learning abilities. Let’s cover the 17 Elon Musk learning strategy keys, to find what sets him apart.
Before we get started, it’s important to realize many variables have shaped Elon’s success.
At the same time, Elon constantly optimizes his learning. Thus, his learning ability without a doubt has greatly contributed to his success.
Because learning like anything else is a skill you can fine-tune. And newfound unparalleled success hinges on your ability to learn.
With that out of the way, I’m going to list 17 tips you can learn from Elon. This way, you can level yourself up to new heights, no matter your background.
A lot of what I’ll discuss is from what I’ve read about Elon. Also, I’ve spoken with friends who have been around Elon a lot too.
#1 A deep passion for studying
Many people study because they’re told to. Whether from a parent or professor.
But not many people study because they have a deep itch to gain more knowledge. In other words, they find reading books as fun. They want to learn as much as they can about the world, on this short stint they’re on this spinning rock.
To drive this point home, think back to your school days.
Have you heard the question, “will this be on the test?” I’ve heard this countless times in every one of my engineering classes.
Frankly, this exposes the issues with the education system. In other words, I’ll pay attention and learn this material for a little while. Only if you promise to give me an A.
The thing is, you’ve NEVER learned anything that actually matters to you this way. For example, learning to shoot a ball through a hoop. Or learning how to ride a bike.
For this reason, I believe engineering education needs reform.
Elon Musk’s early days with reading
From a young age, Elon loved to read. He would read for hours on end, whatever book he could get his hands on.
Kimbal, Elon’s younger brother said, “he would go through two books in one day.”
That said, reading is one of the best ways to pull yourself out from the context of your existing life.
For example, removing yourself from your suburban life. Then sending your mind on a travel trip deep into outer space.
All the while, forging future plans in your mind, no matter how wacky they may sound to others.
This is exactly what a young Elon did. He read a bunch of sci-fi books, like one of his favorites, “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.”
Elon stated the below on this favorite book of his.
“It taught me that the tough thing is figuring out what questions to ask, but that once you do that, the rest is really easy.”
He was referring to the ultimate questions of life, the universe, and everything.
This book among others, planted seeds into Elon’s mind over future business possibilities.
Elon Musk’s learning journey to build rockets in the start-up of SpaceX
When Elon founded SpaceX, he consumed countless more books on rockets. He was never formally a rocket engineer either.
He didn’t even go to graduate school to learn about aerospace and rockets. But, he became a self-taught rocket engineering master.
When people ask him how he learned to build rockets, he simply replies with, “I read books.”
How badass is that?!
Hence, I wholeheartedly believe self-studying with a passion always beats out formal education. It’s also why I say engineering work experience beats out formal education.
Also to point out, Elon reads fast. Very fast!
The faster you can read, the more data you can upload into your mind. So, practice learning how to speed up your reading. Just don’t compromise your understanding of the content.
In short, study and then study even more until you know a subject like the back of your hand. There are no shortcuts around this!
I would label this as one of the most important Elon Musk learning strategy keys.
What’s more, I’ve noticed the most brilliant minds advance their learning on their own. Not through a classroom setting.
#2 Extreme laser focus
Elon juggles businesses in completely separate industries. And all at the highest level. Hard to even fathom the juggling skills required to pull this off.
One can argue he has an army of the smartest people working for him. This is in fact true.
But everyone I know around him has said he gets his hands dirty in all the engineering work.
He dives deep into the engineering work too. He doesn’t just gloss over the subjects.
What’s more, he constantly switches gears from one company to the next. Thus, switching from one engineering specialty to another. Then throw in finance and business matters, and laser focus is undeniably necessary.
Think back to any time you were crazy busy. You had deadline after deadline with people breathing down your neck.
As a result, your level of focus notched up, as you scrambled to get everything done.
Elon is forever switched into this laser focus mode.
If he’s not, there’s no way he can handle even a small percentage of his daily tasks.
Again, just look at your everyday life. By even adding the smallest new responsibility, your problems will grow.
Now, imagine juggling billion-dollar businesses. The problems would exponentially grow.
Thus, when you’re learning, do your best to zone in with high levels of focus!
Find a quiet area, that best suits you to learn. Even better, learn to focus with chaos all around you. This way, you’ll find greater opportunities to learn.
Understanding the concept of signal over noise
In engineering, problems are never black and white. Problems are a mess of variables, that all connect together somehow.
It’s like designing an induction motor. In the design, you can change elements in the stator and rotor. Then you analyze your data, which includes some of the following variables:
- The diameter of the stator
- Phase current
- Gross core length
- Average flux density
You find how each variable affects the next, to varying degrees. And vice versa. BUT, only certain variables are the driving force to the efficiency of an induction motor.
Thus, according to Musk,
“Don’t waste time on stuff that doesn’t actually make things better.”
This level of understanding comes with experience only. Plus, understanding the fundamentals of the subject you’re doing work in.
This is critical when you’re trying to learn because you need to know how to wade through the bullshit. Otherwise, you’ll waste boatloads of time doing nonsensical work.
#3 Deeply understand the fundamentals – first principles thinking
Your teachers always said you need to understand the fundamentals of a subject.
Elon doubles down on this idea. Elon stated,
“It is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree — make sure you understand the fundamental principles, ie the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.”
Elon defines this as first principles thinking. You break things down to “the most fundamental truths.” From there, you reason up.
By understanding the root of subjects, you can better navigate through the weeds.
For example, let’s say someone is going to work on the cutting edge of rocket engineering. I’m talking about designing the new age rocket to take us beyond Earth and the Moon. Thus, you’d work on fine-tuning already advanced engineering.
You can’t expect to do anything worthwhile without a basic background in physics. Because how would you modify existing designs to make them better? You couldn’t!
Most people aim to come up with solutions through the analogy method. They find similar problems and solutions and apply them to their work. It’s certainly the easy way out.
This method works great when you’re repeating the same design over and over again. But falls greatly short when you’re working on the cutting edge.
Not only will the analogy method not work, but you’ll shoot yourself in the foot. I say this because:
- An analogous problem may not exist to copy from
- Your solution will be only as good as the copied solution to your problem
This is a surefire way to become a copycat and not advance your learning. Plus, you’ll never innovate.
Improving battery technology through first principles thinking
Let’s drive the point home with first principles thinking by Elon. I’m going to use a battery example he made.
Batteries are of course the heart of electric cars. Elon has no lack of familiarity with them through Tesla.
Elon describes here how Tesla approached the problem of the high cost of battery packs for cars:
Somebody could say, “Battery packs are really expensive and that’s just the way they will always be… Historically, it has cost $600 per kilowatt hour. It’s not going to be much better than that in the future.”
With first principles, you say, “What are the material constituents of the batteries? What is the stock market value of the material constituents?”
It’s got cobalt, nickel, aluminum, carbon, some polymers for separation and a seal can. Break that down on a material basis and say, “If we bought that on the London Metal Exchange what would each of those things cost?”
It’s like $80 per kilowatt hour. So clearly you just need to think of clever ways to take those materials and combine them into the shape of a battery cell and you can have batteries that are much, much cheaper than anyone realizes.”
“You just have to think of clever ways to take those materials and combine them into the shape of a battery cell, and you can have batteries that are much, much cheaper than anyone realizes.”
Analogy way of thinking cripples innovation
Elon also stated how the analogy way of thinking is frankly stupid.
He was alluding to people who say things will always remain how they’ve been because that’s how it was in the past. He said this way of reasoning would then lead you to no new discoveries.
On the same note, you’d always apply the same lackluster solution to every problem.
In the end, Musk said it “takes a lot more mental energy,” to think using first principles. But this is how we’ve entered the technological age we find ourselves in today.
Broadening the scope of your fundamental principles
Let’s march one step forward.
Take the basic fundamentals of your industry and apply them elsewhere. This is how technology has overtaken every industry.
Elon constantly applies what he learns from one industry to another. For example, taking lessons from manufacturing from Tesla and applying them to SpaceX.
Because everything in the world around you can be made better.
#4 Remain curious about everything to broaden your learning
A curious mind will lead you down many rabbit holes. You’ll learn new things while discovering untouched problems.
There’s a reason Elon Musk has and is running so many companies in different industries. These companies include the following:
- Tesla (automotive)
- SpaceX (aerospace)
- Paypal (internet/finance)
- Neuralink (brain-machine interface)
- Boring Company (mining/transportation)
Growing up, Elon Musk would soak up all types of information. This included science fiction, philosophy, science, engineering, business, and so much more.
As an adult, his focus switched more towards a specific genre of books. This includes engineering, physics, and business type books. But he still reads books of all genres.
In short, he exposes himself to content, he wouldn’t have seen otherwise. For example, he wouldn’t be who he is today if he only stuck to reading books on rockets alone.
This notion of you can only specialize in one subject matter will limit your progression. You’ve probably heard, “Jack of all trades. Master on none.”
Heck, you may be a nuclear engineering whiz, but you also know a lot about video games. Then throw in your deep background in politics and sports.
So why not learn about power engineering too, as you have a slight interest? Clearly, you have the ability to juggle many different types of subjects.
Benefits of broadening your learning scope
The benefits to learning more are plentiful:
- Gain knowledge advantage over your peers
- A combination of skillsets can give you a unique master skillset and perspective
- Solve a broader selection of problems
- Mesh together lines of work between industries
- Craft unique ideas and solutions to problems
Going down one path alone will make your brand of problem-solving very vanilla.
The best engineers I know have a deep understanding of technical subjects. But also, they’re fluent in construction and manufacturing work. This combination always leads to the best designs.
Because you can know all the theory in the world. But what you design in the office may not be practical and transferable to the real world.
#5 Jump into the unknown and force new learning
Staying in your comfort zone, you’ll only learn about topics you’re familiar with. Topics you’re comfortable with learning.
But diving headfirst into an unknown area will expose you to all types of new material. To stay afloat, you’ll need to quickly learn how to swim.
Elon doesn’t fear entering new industries he has no background in. Because he has experience soaking in new knowledge without a formal background.
Look no further than SpaceX. Elon didn’t have formal experience in rocket engineering. Heck, he never even worked in the aerospace field before prior to SpaceX.
BUT, he always had a deep passion for space exploration. As well as making humans a multi-planetary species. This traces back to when he was a kid.
In founding SpaceX, he surrounded himself with the brightest minds. He gathered people from the rocket and aerospace industry. Also, he consumed a stack of rocket engineering books.
In a short period of time, he shoved endless volumes of content into his mind.
I want to point out, Musk had a background in various technical subjects. This goes back to Tip #3
Thus, study widely in different fields. You’ll even find how many subjects fundamentally relate and connect together.
#6 Ask challenging questions
The best way to force yourself into the unknown from Tip #5 is to ask challenging questions.
These questions will open the door to new learning. At the same time, they’ll open the door to new knowledge.
For Tesla, Elon asked how he could mass-market electric cars. Because electric cars aren’t anything novel. In fact, electric car technology existed for many decades before Tesla even existed.
What Elon did was make electric cars practical for the average American. He made the cars both sexy and improved the driving range.
This is the core of commerciality.
Sounds simple enough, but then why didn’t the giants in the auto industry do this first? Now today, they’re all playing catch up.
Another question Elon asked, relates to the landing of SpaceX rockets. These fire breathing machines are essentially missiles packed to the tip with fuel.
Then there’s the trajectory and finding the best place to land the rockets. Point is, you can’t land these behemoths anywhere you like.
So why not land in the ocean?! Talk about crazy!
Eventually, Elon decided to do just that. He lands some of his rockets on floating drone ships. This then led to the mastery of control theory and machine learning for path planning.
In short, challenging questions always lead to advanced learning experiences.
#7 Build relationships with experts in your field
You have limited time on this planet. Sometimes you don’t have the time to understand deeply complex subjects.
This is where experts come into the picture.
I’m not saying to completely lean on other people to do the heavy lifting for you. Try to first understand subjects yourself the best you can with your limited time.
But then, turn to experts to give you the bits and pieces that come from experience alone. Because in engineering design, that final 1% is always the most difficult.
Now, Elon Musk consults with the brightest minds in his fields of work. Then he soaks up their knowledge like a sponge.
He usually gets the best of the best answers out of experts too. Because the experts know Elon has already exhausted all other solutions. And he wants the best solution that has yet to strike him.
A solution may have taken an expert 15 years to come up with. But now, Elon will have the solution at his fingertips in days or weeks through the expert. Talk about amazing efficiency!
So, take advantage of learning from smarter people around you. Because there’s not enough time to learn everything on your own from scratch.
This Elon Musk Learning Strategy is much easier to leverage today too. You’re always connected to the internet through a device in your pocket. You have instant access to so much.
Receive unhindered feedback
Also, what better way to get instant feedback, then to ask questions from experts.
Just make sure you receive honest advice from people who have your best interest at heart.
Because just as bad, are yes-men. People who agree with everything you say because you’re their superior.
Rather, you need people who will tell it like it is. They’ll call you out on your bullshit. Sounds harsh, but it’s one of the best ways to learn.
#8 Build strong learning habits
Of course, Elon stands on the shoulders of some of the brightest engineering minds. But he’s also knee-deep in the engineering work in most of his companies. I’ve heard this from several of my friends who work at SpaceX and Tesla.
To pull this off, he has made a habit of learning new topics all the time. His success from SpaceX shows he has the ability to learn on the bleeding edge of technology. Also, he has the ability to learn how to navigate the complex financial and political world.
His mind instantly connects new and unknown subjects with learning.
Just like in a video game, where you hit the ‘jump’ button when a fireball comes your way. When Elon sees something new or unknown, he switches into learning mode.
In short, learning has become a habit for him.
#9 Don’t fear failure
Mistakes happen. Especially when you work on the cutting edge in your field.
So, don’t allow failures to demotivate you. Or make you think your learning is pointless.
In the early days of SpaceX, led by Elon Musk, the company was near folding. When first founded, the Falcon 1 rocket failed three times in a row.
Thereafter, SpaceX had enough resources only for a fourth launch. Had this launch failed, SpaceX wouldn’t exist today.
This never detoured Elon though. He continued to push forward, despite not having any formal rocket engineering background.
Rather, he pushed through each failure with his team. With each failure, the SpaceX team learned more and more.
Without a doubt, failure is the best teacher in engineering.
Today, SpaceX is leading the way in the aerospace industry.
#10 Push yourself to your limits
If you follow most people around you, you won’t push your learning limits. Because many people have the following unflattering view on learning:
- Learning must only happen in a structured environment, like in school.
- If you’re already an expert in one field, you can only scrape the surface of any other field.
- The number of letters you have after your name or what school you went to, define learning.
I hear all types of engineers say things like, “I’m an electrical engineer. How would I ever know anything about structural?”
As if, if you’re an electrical engineer you can’t learn about structural engineering. This is a self-defeating mindset that’s beyond crippling.
Especially, when you have memorized every stat for your fantasy football league. Clearly, you have the ability to learn at least the basics of structural engineering.
Elon Musk, states the following:
“I do kinda feel like my head is full! My context switching penalty is high and my process isolation is not what it used to be.
I think most people can learn a lot more than they think they can. They sell themselves short without trying.”
So go ahead and try learning new information. The hardest part is finding alone time to study.
You’ll surprise yourself though, with how much you can learn. Even more, with how better you feel with the newly gained knowledge.
In summary, if it’s important enough for you to learn more, you’ll make the time.
#11 Memory and visualization
One of the biggest complaints in learning is poor memory.
We’ve all at one point became frustrated because we couldn’t remember something. Or, no matter how many times we read over a subject, nothing seemed to stick in our minds. Talk about frustrating!
On that note, Elon Musk’s mind works very visually. He said the following:
“It seems as though the part of the brain that’s usually reserved for visual processing – the part that is used to process images coming in from my eyes – gets taken over by internal thought processes…I can’t do this as much now because there are so many things demanding my attention but, as a kid, it happened a lot. That large part of your brain that’s used to handle incoming images gets used for internal thinking.”
So, you may not be using your brain the right way. One of the greatest memory tricks is visualization.
It’s what professional memory performers do. It’s how they remember various tangled orders of numbers from a deck of cards. And in most instances, their memory is just average.
Clearly, this way of thinking greatly helps with memorization. As images deeply plant their roots in your mind, while written words are more abstract. Perhaps our brains encode images and words very differently.
Now, some people are born with the visualization ability to a much greater degree than others. But with practice, everyone can improve this memory “muscle.”
Nikola Tesla’s visualization ability
One of the people Elon deeply respects is Nikola Tesla. Nikola also leveraged this visualization ability to amazing heights. Nikola Tesla said the following:
“I observed to my delight that I could visualize with the greatest facility. I needed no models, drawings or experiments. I could picture them all as real in my mind… I am able to rapidly develop and perfect a conception without touching anything. When I have gone so far as to embody in the invention every possible improvement I can think of and see no fault anywhere, I put into concrete form this final product of my brain. Invariably my device works as I conceived that it should, and the experiment comes out exactly as I planned it.”
Nikola seemingly had this ability since he was a young child. So, he naturally had this gift.
But, it doesn’t mean you can’t optimize your visualization ability.
So, practice trying to approach information in a different way. Because insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
#12 Think like an engineer
When you think like an engineer, you’re searching for how to build something. Or how to improve something.
When you study a subject, think about how you can apply what you’re learning about. I’m talking about connecting the dots to reshape the world we live in.
Because it’s the application of knowledge that’s powerful. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge doesn’t change the world.
Don’t get me wrong, knowledge and science are very important. Engineering couldn’t have advanced without the amazing work of scientists.
But, our goal here is to maximize learning like Elon Musk.
The greatest example of this is Elon’s vision to make human’s a multi-planetary species. All his science fiction, science, and engineering reading culminated into SpaceX.
Today, Elon is commercializing space travel and pushing the entire space industry forward.
This way of thinking is how humans today live such amazing comfortable lives. It came from applying knowledge and constantly finding ways to add value.
All in all, Elon focuses on learning how to apply knowledge. Thus, the importance of learning how to be creative in engineering.
#13 Share knowledge with others
Don’t close yourself off to others, thinking you’ll come out ahead.
Knowledge is plenty and you got your leg up from learning from others.
It’s why Elon constantly shares his learning hacks. Even more, he made Tesla’s patents available for anyone to use.
“Technology leadership is not defined by patents.”
To notch this discussion one level higher, we all stand on the shoulders of giants.
The human species is like a giant anthill. Everyone contributes in some way to the advancement of humanity. Or even more, we all march towards a singularity.
Plus maybe one day, you need to use a newfound technology from someone else. It’d suck if no one shared anything.
In the end, we’re all reliant on one another to learn more.
#14 Fearless relentless drive
Elon has a fearless relentless drive. He has a little pitbull in him as he tackles problems.
He’ll do whatever it takes to gather the necessary knowledge to learn what he needs.
If this means hiring the best engineering experts in a field, he’ll do that. He’ll then learn from them, as again, he’s knee-deep in engineering work.
He does this with all his companies.
To top it off, Elon is fearless over the scope of any work he pursues. Even when the work doesn’t have a clear path, or may seem impossible.
He takes risks that others aren’t willing to take. And sometimes he’s proven wrong. Yet, he continues to push forward.
This exposes him to all types of gnarly learning experiences. Learning experiences no other person has come across.
In a university setting, you learn from past experiences. Countless people experienced the same thing, and now they’re regurgitating it to you.
Many times, the knowledge doesn’t stick so well in your mind. Because you’re not experiencing the problems and lessons first hand.
But Elon works on the cutting edge and for him to push forward, he needs to learn and then solve. Thus, what he learns becomes glued to his mind.
This all goes back to the Elon Musk interview question that can make or break you.
#15 Endless consistency
If you connect all of Elon’s company’s together, they’ll all point in one direction.
They point to advancing making humans a multi-planetary species. This all traces back to his younger days where he was deeply passionate about space travel.
His vision of space travel has become glued in his mind for decades on end. And it’s these decades of consistency that lead to amazing results.
I’m talking about learning endlessly. At the same time, applying what you’re learning while on the bleeding edge of technology.
Many engineers stop deep found learning after college. This happens after they collect their diploma and start collecting a steady paycheck.
Then here and there, they’ll learn something new because their employer forced them.
On the flip side, consistently take small steps in your learning journey. After many years, you’ll look back and you’ll see how far behind everyone is.
#16 Become a doer
Don’t sit on the sidelines and only gain knowledge.
As I said in Tip #12, the application of knowledge is power.
Also, the best learning you can get is through failures. And the only way to fail is to do.
To put things into perspective, Elon and others sold Paypal to eBay on October 3rd, 2002. Elon netted $180 million from the acquisition.
SpaceX was then founded on May 6th, 2002. Then the first Falcon 1 rocket launched on March 24th, 2006.
What’s makes this timeline even more incredible is the industry of this business. Aerospace is one of the most cutthroat businesses with mind-numbing overhead costs.
In the start-up, three rockets failed, with the fourth launch succeeding. If this fourth launch had failed, SpaceX would have folded.
Insane pressure, but at the same time, these failures were priceless lessons.
The lesson here is to become a doer. Because getting your hands dirty and doing work is the best teacher in life. More so, if you’re at the helm, leading the efforts.
#17 Avoid echo chambers
Don’t create echo chambers for yourself. Where you only search for positive reinforcements to your actions.
Not only will you handicap your learning, but you’ll produce subpar engineering work.
Elon has always stuck his neck out, not fearing criticism. Plus, he blasts all his thoughts and visions on Twitter.
If anyone knows a thing about social media, it can be a cesspool for negative feedback. But at the same time, you can get some awesome constructive feedback.
Sure, Elon markets himself and his companies on Twitter for free. But he also gains direct feedback from his peers and customers. This allows him to learn what people want.
In short, Elon is consuming data from all angles to improve his work. And more data never hurts. In fact, most failures in engineering come from a lack of data.
The Elon Musk learning strategy wrap up
The lesson here is not to take what’s perpetuated by the education system and industry as gospel.
Rather, think outside of the box. There’s not just one way to learn.
Because Elon is living proof of how optimized learning can become. What drives this point home, even more, is that he doesn’t have formal education in his fields of work.
This highlights how anyone can master a field of work on their own. There are no excuses!
Adopt just a few Elon Musk learning strategy tips, and you’ll increase your success in your field.
What’s cooler is, you’ll soon realize how deeply connected these tips all are together. You’ll also soon find you’re unconsciously adopting more and more of them as time goes by.
What are your thoughts on the 17 Elon Musk learning strategy keys? Which of the Elon Musk learning strategy keys do you find most helpful? What strategies do you use to optimize your learning?
Featured Image Photo Credit: Daniel Oberhaus (image cropped)
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Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2020 to help people better understand the engineering and construction industry, and to discuss various science and engineering-related topics to make people think. He has been working in the engineering and tech industry in California for over 15 years now and is a licensed professional electrical engineer, and also has various entrepreneurial pursuits.
Koosha has an extensive background in the design and specification of electrical systems with areas of expertise including power generation, transmission, distribution, instrumentation and controls, and water distribution and pumping as well as alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and storage).
Koosha is most interested in engineering innovations, the cosmos, our history and future, sports, and fitness.