There are 20 Elon Musk workplace rules that can seriously jazz up any company, big or small. Both SpaceX and Tesla swear by these rules.
You can bet your bottom dollar that these rules work wonders, whether it’s for a Fortune 500 company or your local mom-and-pop shop. Expect productivity to soar and your work culture to flourish.
Let me break it down for you, rule by rule, with an Elon Musk quote, and my two cents.
#1 Ditch the rigid chain of command in communication
“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.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen productivity nosedive because of the hoops we need to jump through just to get a message across. Like that one time when I spotted issues with high-voltage equipment, but couldn’t fix them because I had to wait for permission from the big boss.
And guess what? It took three long months just to score a meeting with him. That delay not only hurt the equipment but also pushed back my other projects. All because the gatekeeper couldn’t spare a measly ten minutes…
It’s no wonder most large companies move at a glacial pace these days. The funny thing is, the 21st-century innovation boom was fueled by lightning-fast communication. We went from horseback mail deliveries to instant emails, yet companies keep piling on hurdles that slow us down.
#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 said,
“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.”
Imagine if departments were separated by invisible walls, turning communication into a nightmare. You should be able to stroll into any office, say your piece, and get on with it. Otherwise, you’re just stifling company growth.
Think of a growing child—if one limb had to wait for permission from another to grow, what a mess that would be!
#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’d say a whopping 75% of meetings are pointless.
Most meetings could be replaced by a simple email exchange. Seriously, I could absorb the key points from a meeting while lounging on my couch, watching TV. It’d save everyone time and money.
But so many companies are still stuck in the pre-internet dark ages. News flash: we don’t send mail by horse anymore, so why on earth are we still having drawn-out, in-person meetings every week?!
#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 part of projects with mandatory 2-hour weekly meetings. Talk about time vampires!
The irony is that these meetings are meant to track productivity, but they end up sabotaging the very thing they’re supposed to promote.
I’ll go out on a limb and say regularly scheduled, advance weekly meetings should never exist. After all, meetings are for coordinating project elements. But how can you predict what you’ll need to coordinate six months down the line? You can’t!
#5 Give yourself 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.”
Picture this: I’m stuck in a 2-hour meeting with ten other folks, but only one other person and I do any talking. Why on earth are the other eight people trapped there?!
These eight engineers could be doing actual engineering work. And to make matters worse, each of them is billing out at over $250 an hour. That’s some serious money going up in smoke!
I’ve also sat through countless mandatory meetings that added zero value to my work. The whole time, I multitasked to make the most of my wasted hours.
#6 Toss out unproductive activities
“Focus on signal over noise. Don’t waste time on stuff that doesn’t actually make things better.”
We often fool ourselves into thinking we’re being productive, when in reality, we’re just spinning our wheels.
Imagine you’re a basketball player, endlessly practicing full-court shots with 0.5 seconds left in the game. Sure, you might face that situation a couple of times in your career, but how often, really?!
Instead, concentrate on perfecting your close-range 3-point shots. Focusing on this skill set will win you more games, almost every time.
In short, zero in on the activities that really matter!
#7 Meeting organizers, take responsibility
“Be certain [you are] providing value to the whole audience.”
To avoid pointless meetings, organizers must plan ahead and ask themselves, “Is this meeting absolutely necessary?”
A poorly judged meeting can waste countless people’s time. If you think the info you’re sharing won’t bring value to others, skip the meeting!
#8 Ditch the 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.”
Acronyms are everywhere, and it can be mind-boggling. Make everyone’s life easier by spelling things out. Is it that much harder to write or say “Not To Scale” instead of “NTS”?
The problem is, folks will pretend they know an acronym to avoid looking clueless. They’ll nod and say, “Got it, thanks!” when, in reality, they’re totally lost. And that’s how a productive conversation spirals into chaos.
#9 Scrap 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.”
Loads of companies have absurd, productivity-sapping rules. I’ve worked on projects where I had to break down my activities into 15-minute increments every single month. What a time-waster!
I spent more time filling out an insane timesheet than doing any real work. The folks who enforce these nutty requirements often don’t even know why they do it. Usually, it’s just how things have always been done.
So, if you spot something utterly bonkers, tell someone in charge. Explain how it’s crippling your productivity. Most of the time, they’ll listen if it affects the bottom line.
#10 Keep your secrets secret
“As an employee and a shareholder, each of us has a responsibility to safeguard all information and technology we use and generate every day.”
Being an employee and a shareholder means we all have a duty to protect the information and technology we use and create daily. I can’t stress this enough: don’t spill the beans!
Not only are you violating your contract and damaging your company, but you’re also hurting the folks who’ve poured their heart and soul into those projects. Their hard work goes down the drain when it’s stolen and claimed by others.
A little empathy goes a long way in these 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.”
Here’s the best advice I’ve got: always think about how you could be doing things better and question yourself. You can improve anything and everything! That’s the idea behind evolution and, well, this article. If something isn’t working well, tweak it, make it better!
Companies are like cars—you can endlessly fine-tune them and swap out parts, making them run smoother and smoother. So if you spot a weak point, don’t sweep it under the rug.
Take engineering companies, for example. Many have shoddy quality control processes, so work goes out without proper checks. If you see this happening, speak up and suggest a fix. Everybody 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.”
Sure, Elon’s insane work ethic isn’t something most employees can replicate. Working 100+ hours a week just isn’t realistic unless it’s your own business, and even then, it’s a stretch. But imagine what we could accomplish if everyone maximized their required 40 hours each week.
Over the years, I’ve seen many engineers clock in only 2 or 3 solid work hours a day, with the rest spent trying to look busy or dragging out projects due to laziness.
The solution? Accountability. And wouldn’t you know it, Elon Musk has an amazing work culture guideline for that!
#13 Craft a crystal-clear company mission
“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. Otherwise, they end up spinning their wheels, doing pointless tasks just for a paycheck, and productivity takes a nosedive.
Take SpaceX as the perfect example. Elon’s mission to make humans a multi-planetary species fires up every worker, motivating them to lead humanity into the future. Now that’s red-hot inspiration!
#14 Celebrate 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.”
A company without talent is a dead-end. But people aren’t robots—we all crave recognition. So when someone does a great job, make sure the company takes notice. Heck, even if it’s a fellow engineer or the janitor, let them know they’re doing fantastic work. You might just make their day a little brighter.
#15 Break free from 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.”
A lot of current processes are not only ineffective but downright inefficient. There have been times when I had to defy conventional wisdom and ditch an obsolete process.
Once, I needed to apply for new utility power service for a project. I knew that sticking to the usual routine would only yield the same old results: a drawn-out project timeline and an increasingly impatient client.
So, I decided to tackle the problem with a fresh approach. The result? A project completed months ahead of schedule, a delighted client, and a new method embraced by my fellow engineers.
This is precisely why Elon champions first-principles thinking. You can’t address every problem in the same way and expect different outcomes.
#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.”
A single jerk can throw an entire workplace into disarray. In close-knit teams, people’s productivity is particularly vulnerable to such disruptions.
Imagine a group saddled with an insufferable member. Others will steer clear of them, and the project will grind to a halt. After all, you’re only at your most productive when you’re in high spirits. Anger is a surefire way to lose focus.
This brings to mind Buddhist monks, who practice non-attachment to attain spiritual enlightenment. Any form of attachment can cause suffering, just like being tethered to a job that makes you uncomfortable.
You need the job to pay the bills, but that asshole is making your life a living hell. Your pent-up anger festers, and your work output plummets.
In a nutshell, treat others the way you’d like to be treated.
#17 Prioritize engineering
“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.”
Unsurprisingly, the backbone of engineering and tech companies is their engineers. However, some organizations practically banish their engineers to the basement. I have software engineer friends who’ve revolutionized entire companies with their code, only for the business folks to take all the credit.
Feeling undervalued, these engineers eventually resigned.
And guess what? The companies took a massive hit, as they couldn’t maintain and upgrade their new software. It made no difference how many Harvard and Stanford MBAs were on the payroll.
So, zero in on what keeps your company afloat.
#18 Harness the power of email for productivity
“I do love email. Wherever possible I try to communicate asynchronously. I’m really good at email.”
I find email to be a fantastic means of communication. You can send an email from anywhere at any time, even from your smartphone.
I encourage everyone to become adept and efficient at writing emails. It’s a fantastic way to keep a written record.
But like any skill, mastering email takes practice. Check out my article on how engineers can enhance their email writing abilities.
#19 Embrace failure
“Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.”
When you’re pushing the envelope of technology, failures are just part of the game. And honestly, they’re a fantastic way to grow as an engineer. With each hiccup, you gain priceless feedback and fresh insights.
But let’s face it, some workplaces treat failure like it’s the plague.
#20 Foster a Team Spirit that Rocks
“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 top-notch folks is the cornerstone of a company’s success. Strong teams empower engineers to soar. And, let’s be real, teamwork is more vital than ever, thanks to the growing specialization skills in engineering.
I’d even say that teamwork is the lifeblood of a company’s success. After all, two brains are better than one. Plus, collaborating with others helps engineers level up big time. I’ve learned a ton this way.
Elon Musk workplace rules’ wrap up
If there’s one person to learn from when it comes to business, it’s the one and only Elon Musk. He has cracked the code on how to transform sluggish businesses into industry trailblazers. Before Elon stepped onto the scene, rockets and electric cars were crawling along at a snail’s pace.
So, don’t just take note of Elon Musk’s workplace rules—embrace them! Honestly, companies are shooting themselves in the foot 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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Author Bio: Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2019 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 well 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, sports, fitness, and our history and future.