20 Must Know Elon Musk Workplace Rules

Elon Musk knows how to successfully run companies. I’m going to go over 20 Elon Musk workplace rules with his quotes that’ll instantly level up any company.

It’s no secret that companies need to evolve to survive. Both one-man shows and large Fortune 100 companies.

And what better way is there to level up than learning from the biggest fish on Earth?!

The great thing is, you can just adopt one of the Elon Musk workplace rules. That alone will instantly improve your company’s productivity and bottom line.

What’s more, I’m going to add my $0.02 with each of his quotes too. I’ll discuss my personal experiences as a working engineer.

So whether you’re a business owner, or an employee looking for the ideal place to work, you can learn from Elon.

#1 Skip the chain of command

elon musk the summit 2013
The Summit 2013 (Photo Credit: Dan Taylor / Heisenberg Media)

“Communication should travel via the shortest path necessary to get the job done, not through the ‘chain of command’. Any manager who attempts to enforce chain of command communication will soon find themselves working elsewhere.”

Productivity dips when you need to jump through ten different hoops to get a single point across.

I’ve had instances before, where I discovered a problem in a high voltage piece of equipment. But I had to request permission to go speak with the person in charge of the facility.

One time, it took 2 months to set up a meeting with the person in charge!

This pushed back all the other work I had planned for the facility too. And who knows what damage this caused the affected equipment.

All because the gatekeeper couldn’t give me 10 minutes of his time.

I find this to be one big reason why most large companies move at a snail’s pace.

Interestingly, a big reason for the great 21st-century innovation spike was fast-speed communication. We went from delivering mail via horses to instantly sending emails.

Yet today, companies add layer after layer of obstacles hampering communication speed.

#2 Go direct to the source

“A major source of issues is poor communication between depts. The way to solve this is allow free flow of information between all levels.”

Elon also stated,

“If, in order to get something done between depts, an individual contributor has to talk to their manager, who talks to a director, who talks to a VP, who talks to another VP, who talks to a director, who talks to a manager, who talks to someone doing the actual work, then super dumb things will happen. It must be ok for people to talk directly and just make the right thing happen.”

Invisible department walls greatly reduce productivity. If two departments need to communicate, the conduit for communication needs to exist.

You should be able to step into an office and say what you need to say.

This ensures uniform company growth without avoidable stalls in progression.

I compare it to the human body and a growing child. We all know the left leg grows together with the right arm. So, one limb doesn’t need to get permission from another to grow.

Now, imagine if the left leg had to wait 6 months to get permission to grow because the right arm said so. The child would without a doubt have stunted growth.

A company is analogous to a growing child. All departments of a company go hand in hand.

Thus, communication should freely flow between departments.

#3 Cut out unnecessary meetings

“Excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time. Please get [rid] of all large meetings, unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience, in which case keep them very short.”

I’ve been an engineer for over 15 years, and I’ve found around 70% of meetings are pointless. I’m talking about a big waste of time!

A single set of emails could communicate the meat of a drawn-out meeting. In other words, I could soak in what I need to know from a meeting with my legs kicked up watching TV at home.

This would save everyone hours of time. The time that could be better spent doing actual work.

I find many companies are stuck in the old ways of doing business before the advent of the internet.

Not surprisingly, we don’t send mail via horses anymore today. So, why have unnecessary drawn-out weekly in-person meetings?!

#4 Reduce meeting frequencies

“Also get rid of frequent meetings, unless you are dealing with an extremely urgent matter. Meeting frequency should drop rapidly once the urgent matter is resolved.”

I’ve been a part of projects where a 2-hour weekly meeting was mandatory.

Who needs a 2-hour weekly meeting these days?!

I’d argue no one.

Ironically, these meetings are set up to track productivity. BUT, the meetings themselves hinder what they’re trying to promote.

I believe no scheduled advanced weekly meetings should EVER exist. Because the sole purpose of meetings is to coordinate project elements.

How can you predict 3 months down the line what coordination you need? You can’t!

#5 Leave no-value add meetings

“Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.”

I’ve sat in 2-hour long meetings with ten other people before.

But here’s the catch, only myself and another person were speaking the entire time. So, why are ten other people forced into the meeting?!

Totally a waste of time for each of them. They’d be better off doing actual work.

What’s more, each of these ten people was billing out at $250 plus an hour. This is inefficiency at its finest.

On the flip side, I’ve been in more mandatory meetings than I can remember, where I benefited zilch. In fact, the entire time I was doing work on something else to try to maximize my wasted time.

#6 Throw out unproductive activities

“Focus on signal over noise. Don’t waste time on stuff that doesn’t actually make things better.”

A lot of the time, we spin our own wheels to trick ourselves into thinking we’re doing “work.” But in reality, we’re doing nothing.

It’s like in basketball. You endlessly practice a full-court shot with 0.5 seconds left in the game.

Sure, you may find yourself in this situation a couple of times in your career. But how often?!

Your time is better served practicing near the basket 3-point shots. You’ll 99% win more games by focusing your efforts on this skillset.

In short, do activities that’ll help you win more!

#7 Responsibility of meeting organizers

Elon Musk and Chris Anderson at TED 2017
Photo Credit: Jurvetson

“Be certain [you are] providing value to the whole audience.”

To avoid pointless meetings, the meeting organizer needs to plan ahead. More specifically, ask yourself, “is the meeting absolutely necessary?”

Because a bad judgment call over a pointless meeting can waste the time of countless people.

So, if you think what you’ll share won’t add value to others, don’t bring it up. Even more, don’t make people carve time out of their schedules to listen to you in a mandatory meeting.

Imagine if you’re crunched for time, and you need to get a project done by end of the day. You’ve been up all night trying to maximize each and every last minute.

Then someone comes into your office chatting you up over something frivolous. You’d become beyond annoyed and irate!

So don’t become that annoying person.

#8 Don’t use confusing acronyms

“Don’t use acronyms or nonsense words for objects, software, or processes at Tesla. In general, anything that requires an explanation inhibits communication. We don’t want people to have to memorize a glossary just to function at Tesla.”

There’s an acronym for everything these days. It can get downright confusing!

So, just make life easier for everyone by spelling things out.

Is it so much more difficult to write “Not To Scale” versus “NTS”?!

The problem is, people will act like they know what an acronym is to not look like an idiot. They’ll nod their head in agreement saying, “got it, thanks!”

In reality, they’re outright confused. So instead of you helping them out, you’re further confusing them.

#9 Dismiss silly rules

“In general, always pick common sense as your guide. If following a ‘company rule’ is obviously ridiculous in a particular situation, such that it would make for a great Dilbert cartoon, then the rule should change.”

Many companies have outright ridiculous rules that kill productivity.

I’ve had work before where I had to break out what exactly I did down to the last 15 minutes, every month.

Talk about a waste of time!

I was spending more time filling out this ridiculous timesheet than doing any work.

To showcase the absurdity of this all, the following is a 0ne-hour breakdown example:

  • First 15 minutes: drafted the control schematic for the generator
  • Second 15 minutes: brainstormed control integration of the generator into the power system
  • Third 15 minutes: brainstormed control integration of the generator into the power system
  • Fouth 15 minutes: spoke with a vendor on the phone over the generator specifications

I hated filling out my timesheet as it was absurd. My complaints about the timesheet fell on deaf ears though.

Most of the time. the people who enforce these foolish requirements don’t even know why they do so. They’re doing it because it’s how things are just done.

So, if you find something is outrageously ridiculous, go tell someone in charge about it. Explain why it’s hurting your productivity.

In most instances, someone will listen to you when it affects the bottom line.

#10 Keep private information private

“As an employee and a shareholder, each of us has a responsibility to safeguard all information and technology we use and generate every day.”

This goes without saying, don’t leak information.

Yes, you’re obviously hurting your company by leaking work information. But even more, you’re hurting all the people who poured their blood, sweat, and tears into the work.

Their hard work all goes down the drain, as it’s now stolen and claimed by others.

Of course, if there’s illegal activity going on, then speak up.

#11 Improve processes

“I think that’s the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.”

You can improve EVERYTHING!

This is the premise behind evolution and frankly this article.

If you find something that isn’t efficient, change it. Make it better!

Companies are like cars. You can endlessly fine-tune a car and replace parts.

Each modification will then make the car run better.

Thus, when you find a weak point, don’t push it under the rug. Speak up, as it’ll help everyone in the end.

I find a lot of the time, engineering companies don’t have a good review process. Work goes out the door without a proper check.

If you see this, speak up, and suggest a fix. Everyone will win in the end.

#12 Extreme work ethic

“Work like hell. I mean you just have to put in 80 to 100 hour weeks every week. [This] improves the odds of success. If other people are putting in 40 hour workweeks and you’re putting in 100 hour workweeks, then even if you’re doing the same thing, you know that you will achieve in four months what it takes them a year to achieve.”

Elon’s work ethic isn’t re-creatable among his employees. No one is going to work 100+ hours unless it’s their own business. Even then, it’s a stretch.

BUT, if employees maximize even their required 40 weekly hours, so much more can get done.

Over the years, I’ve found many engineers put in maybe 4 to 6 solid hours of work a day. The rest is trying to look busy, or purposefully dragging a project along due to laziness.

To remedy this problem, the work culture needs to evolve. There needs to be accountability!

Strong work cultures will have people feeding off the energy of each other.

#13 Develop a clear mission

Mars true color
The true color of Mars (Photo Credit: European Space Agency)

“People work better when they know what the goal is and why. It is important that people look forward to coming to work in the morning and enjoy working.”

A clear company mission helps employees find meaning and purpose in their work.

Without a mission, you’re just spinning your wheels thinking you’re doing pointless work. Work that serves zero purposes outside of helping you collect a paycheck.

In return, your productivity dips. This mentality is contagious too and it infects all other employees.

On the flip side, let’s look at Elon’s SpaceX mission. Elon wants to make humans a multi-planetary species.

How badass is that?!

It lights a fire under every worker as you’re leading humanity into the future. In other words, YOU are creating the future.

Talk about sizzling motivation!

#14 Recognize talent

“A company is a group organized to create a product or service, and it is only as good as its people and how excited they are about creating. I do want to recognize a ton of super-talented people. I just happen to be the face of the companies.”

Without talent, a company would die a sudden death.

At the same time, humans aren’t robots.

What I mean is, most humans desire recognition. It’s an evolutionary trait to feel wanted. To feel you’re a part of a group that’ll ensure your survival.

Thus, when someone does something good, point it out.

What’s more, I believe this recognition isn’t limited between engineers and managers. As an engineer, if you notice another engineer doing amazing work, let them know.

Heck, if you see the janitor doing great work, let them know.

If nothing else, you’ll make someone’s day just a bit brighter. That’s priceless!

#15 Shatter inefficient processes

“The problem is that at a lot of big companies, process becomes a substitute for thinking. You’re encouraged to behave like a little gear in a complex machine. Frankly, it allows you to keep people who aren’t that smart, who aren’t that creative.”

Many existing processes are inefficient and frankly ineffective.

I’ve had instances where I bucked the trend to follow an outdated process.

In one case, it was for getting a new utility power service for a project. I knew going through the same old process would net me the same output.

The result would be a drawn-out project schedule, with customers becoming impatient.

Thus, this one-time on a new project, I decided to go against the grain.

This despite everyone telling me I had to follow the same existing process because “that’s how we do it.”

After a lot of convincing, I made others understand my reasoning for the switch. In return, I approached the problem differently.

In the end, I completed the project months earlier than expected. The client was happy, and my method became the newly adopted company method.

This is one big reason why Elon encourages first principles thinking. Because you can’t approach every problem the same, or you’ll get the same lackluster results.

#16 No asshole policy

“We have a strict ‘no-assholes policy’ at SpaceX.”

Elon also stated,

“It’s very important to like the people you work with, otherwise life [and]your job is gonna be quite miserable.”

Assholes can quickly disrupt an entire work culture.

People’s productivity will dip, especially in team environments. Because in teams, everyone depends on one another.

If there’s an asshole in the group, people will avoid working with him, and projects will then stall.

It’s important to realize, you can only maximize your productivity if you feel great. If I ever get too angry, I find I can’t properly focus.

It’s why Buddhist monks have such clear minds. They’ve practiced non-attachment to have spiritual enlightenment.

Any form of attachment can bring you pain. One form of this pain is when you’re attached to a project or job, but you’re uncomfortable. An asshole is working beside you, but you can’t leave, because you need the job to pay your bills.

So, you start to boil up and anger builds in you.

As we’re all taught in elementary school, just be a good person!

#17 Focus on engineering

SpaceX Falcon Heavy landing (Photo Credit: SpaceX)

“The path to the CEO’s office should not be through the CFO’s office, and it should not be through the marketing department. It needs to be through engineering and design.”

The foundation of engineering and tech companies is engineers. Yet, some companies figuratively throw their engineers in the basement.

I’ve known friends who’ve written code that transformed an entire company’s business plan. BUT, they received no credit whatsoever.

The credit all went to the business people. Even though it was the software that brought in millions of dollars in added revenue.

What then happened was, this engineer quit. The company then took a major hit, as they couldn’t maintain the newly built software.

It didn’t matter how many Harvard and Stanford MBAs the company had on their payroll either.

Thus, it’s important to focus on what keeps you breathing and alive.

#18 Maximize productivity

“I do love email. Wherever possible I try to communicate asynchronously. I’m really good at email.”

I find email to be a greatly efficient form of communication. You can send an email from anywhere and instantly.

I do it all the time on my smartphone. It has made my work efficiency magnitudes greater.

Thus, encourage your employees to get good at writing emails and to use emails more often. Especially in place of unnecessary group meetings.

Frankly, writing emails is a skill that needs to be fine-tuned. I’ve written tips on how engineers can improve their email writing skills.

#19 Don’t shun failure

“Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.”

Failure is a given when you’re operating on the bleeding of technology. Plus, it’s one of the best ways to learn.

You gain invaluable feedback and new knowledge.

But not all people know this. Because in some workplaces, failure isn’t acceptable.

Thus, companies need to highlight how failure is the single path to innovation. The trick is to learn from engineering failures though.

#20 Encourage collaboration

“Talent is extremely important. It’s like a sports team, the team that has the best individual player will often win, but then there’s a multiplier from how those players work together and the strategy they employ.”

Hiring great talent, but more so, great people are the key to a company’s success.

It’ll foster teamwork, which is essential in a day and age where specialization rules. People need to work together, to build and innovate at a high level.

Thus, teamwork needs to be the framework of a company. This starts with hiring awesome people.

Then encourage people to collaborate.

Plus, I learned so much as a young engineer from engineers who were senior to me. I soaked in their every last word.

Even today, I’m constantly learning from others every day.

I’d go as far as to say, without collaboration my engineering skillset would dip.

Elon Musk workplace rules’ wrap up

There’s so much to learn from Elon Musk. He clearly has found how to turn the wheels of companies to bring his visions to life.

He’s a visionary who has raised the bar for how companies should operate moving into the future.

So, companies need to take note of the Elon Musk workplace rules.

I’d go as far as to say companies are doing themselves a disservice if they don’t. That’s how much I believe in these rules.

What are your thoughts on the Elon Musk workplace rules? Do you think the Elon Musk workplace rules are necessary for high-level innovation?


Featured Image Photo Credit: Dan Taylor / Heisenberg Media (image cropped)

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