20 Must Know Elon Musk Workplace Rules

There are 20 Elon Musk workplace rules to instantly level up any company. Both SpaceX and Tesla live by these rules.

You can apply these rules to a Fortune 500 company or a small business. The results will be the same. Increased productivity and improved work culture.

I discuss each rule with an Elon Musk quote followed by my $0.02.

#1 Skip the chain of command in communication 

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 problems in high-voltage pieces of equipment. But, my hands were tied in fixing the issues. Because I had to get in line, to get permission from the person in charge of the facility.

And here’s the catch, it took 3 months to set up a meeting with the person in charge. The delay I know negatively affected the equipment. But also, as a result, the other work I had planned for the facility became delayed. All because the gatekeeper couldn’t give me 10 minutes of his time…

Not surprisingly, this is a huge reason why most large companies operate at a snail’s pace today. And ironically, a big reason for the 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.

#2 Go direct to the source of information

“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 hamper productivity. If two departments need to communicate, the conduit for communication needs to exist. You should be able to step into any office and say what you need to say. Otherwise, you stunt company growth.

I compare this growth 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 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 have deformities.

#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 find 75% of meetings to be a waste of time.

A single set of emails could communicate the meat of most meetings. Heck, I could soak in what I need to know from a meeting with my legs kicked up while watching TV at home. This would save everyone time and money.

Many companies today though, are stuck in the old ways of doing business before the advent of the internet. Yet to no one’s shock, no one sends mail via horses 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 2-hour weekly meetings were mandatory. They were the biggest time sinks.

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

I’ll go as far as to say, no deeply scheduled advanced weekly meetings should ever exist. Because the sole purpose of meetings is to coordinate project elements. But how can you predict 3 months down the line what coordination you need? You can’t!

#5 Permission to 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 the catch was, only myself and another person spoke the entire time. So, why are eight other people forced to sit in the meeting?!

These eight engineers are better off doing real engineering work. To make matters worse, each of these eight people is billing out at $250 plus an hour. Talk about burning money and inefficiency!

I’ve also been in many mandatory meetings where I benefited zilch. The entire time I did other work, 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.”

Many times, we trick ourselves into thinking we’re doing work. But in reality, we’re doing nothing more than thinking we’re productive.

It’s like in basketball. You endlessly practice a full-court shot with 0.5 seconds left in the game. Now sure, you may find yourself in this situation a couple of times in your career. But really, how often?!

Instead, your time is better served to practice near-the-basket 3-point shots. You’ll 99% of the time win more games by focusing your efforts on this skill set versus the former.

In short, focus on winning activities!

#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 properly plan ahead. More specifically, ask yourself as the organizer, “Is this meeting absolutely necessary?”

Because a bad judgment call over a pointless meeting can waste the time of countless people. So, if you think the information shared at a meeting won’t add value to others, don’t create the meeting!

#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 and it can get downright confusing. So, make life easier for everyone by spelling things out. Because is it so much more difficult to write or say “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, though, they’re confused. So a productive conversation quickly turns into greater confusion.

#9 Get rid of silly workplace 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 productivity-killing rules. I’ve worked on projects 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 spent more time filling out a ridiculous timesheet than doing any real work. To showcase the absurdity of this client’s request, the following is a snippet from my timesheet:

  • 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’s specifications

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

So, if you find something outrageously ridiculous, go tell someone in charge about it. Explain why it’s hurting your productivity. In most instances, someone will listen if 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, but don’t leak information. For one, it goes against your contract and you’re obviously hurting your company.

Even more, though, you hurt all the people who poured their blood, sweat, and tears into the projects. Their hard work goes down the drain, as it’s stolen and claimed by others.

I find empathy goes a long way in such situations.

#11 Improve work 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 isn’t efficient, change it. Make it better!

Companies are like cars. You can endlessly fine-tune a car and replace parts. Where each modification will make the car run better and better. So, when you discover a weak point in a company, don’t push it under the rug.

For example, I find many engineering companies have poor quality control processes. Work goes out the door without a proper check. Thus in your role, if you see this, speak up, and suggest a fix. Everyone wins in the end.

#12 Maximize work output

“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 will work 100+ hours a week unless it’s their own business. Even then, it’s a stretch.

But, if employees maximize their required 40 weekly work hours, so much more would get done. Over the years, I’ve found many engineers put in maybe 3 to 4  solid work hours a day. Then, the remaining time trying to look busy. Or, purposefully dragging a project along due to laziness.

To remedy this matter, there needs to be accountability. And not surprisingly, Elon Musk creates an amazing work culture guideline.

#13 Develop a clear company 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 it, you spin your wheels doing pointless work only for a paycheck. Productivity then dips.

As an ideal company mission example, let’s look at SpaceX. Elon wants to make humans a multi-planetary species.

This mission lights a fire under every worker, as you lead humanity into the future. Talk about sizzling motivation!

#14 Recognize and appreciate the talent and hard work

“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. We all desire recognition to some degree. So, when an employee does good work, a company needs to take notice.

Even 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.

#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, I had to apply for a new utility power service for a project. I knew going through the same old process would net me the same results though. I’d have a drawn-out project schedule, with an impatient client breathing down my neck.

I decided to approach the problem differently. The outcome was a project completed months ahead of schedule. The client was happy, and my method became adopted by other engineers.

This is a big reason why Elon encourages first principles thinking. Because you can’t approach every problem the same, or you’ll get the same poor 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 take a hit, especially in close-knit team environments.

For example, say there’s a full-blown asshole in a group. People will avoid working with this asshole, and the project will stall. Because you can only maximize your productivity if you feel great. If you get too angry, you’ll lose focus.

This leads us to Buddhist monks, who practice non-attachment to have spiritual enlightenment. Because any form of attachment can bring pain. This applies to our example, where you’re attached to a job you’re uncomfortable in.

You need the job to pay your bills, but the asshole makes your life miserable. Naturally, you boil up with anger inside of you, and your work output plummets.

In short, treat others how you want to be treated.

#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.”

Not surprisingly, the foundation of engineering and tech companies is engineers. Yet, some companies figuratively throw their engineers in the basement. I have software engineer friends who’ve transformed entire companies with their code. But, the credit went entirely to the business people.

The unappreciated engineers soon thereafter quit.

And guess what? The companies took a major hit, as they couldn’t sustain and update their newly built software. It didn’t even matter how many Harvard and Stanford MBAs these companies had on their payroll.

So, place absolute focus on what keeps your company alive.

#18 Maximize work productivity through emails

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

I find email to be a super-efficient form of communication. You can send an email from anywhere and instantly. I constantly send out emails with my smartphone at all hours of the day.

I encourage everyone to get good and fast at writing emails. Especially, since it’s a great way to keep a written record.

Just like any other skill though, email writing requires practice. Check out my article on how engineers can improve their email writing skills.

#19 Don’t discourage failures

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

Failures are a given when you work on the bleeding of technology. Plus, it’s one of the best ways to level up as an engineer. After each failure, you gain invaluable feedback and new knowledge.

Yet, in some workplaces, failure isn’t acceptable.

Companies need to highlight how failure is the single best path to innovation. Even more, the secret to becoming a 10x engineer is learning from engineering failures.

#20 Encourage team 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 talented great people is the key to a company’s success. Rock-solid teams allow engineers to thrive. Especially, since teamwork is more necessary than ever, due to engineer specialization.

I’d go as far as to say, teamwork today, is a necessary ingredient to a company’s success. Because two minds are better than one. And as an added benefit, engineers level up through collaboration. I learned endless amounts of information this way.

Elon Musk workplace rules’ wrap up

If there’s a single person to learn from when it comes to business, it’s Elon Musk. He discovered how to uproot stagnating businesses and make them thrive. Before Elon came along, rockets and electric cars were industries progressing at a snail’s pace.

So 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.

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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