You aren’t Elon Musk
September 26, 2023 |Scott Kubie
What can I learn from Elon Musk? Should I put Walter Isaacson’s new biography of Musk at the top of the reading list? Is there a secret or a catalyst that will propel me to the next level of success? Musk is the world’s richest man. He runs the most valuable automobile company. He runs the most successful spacecraft company. He owns the company formerly known as Twitter.
Musk’s brother says he lacks the empathy gene. Yet, those personality traits are so intertwined with his worldly success. It’s hard for me to imagine that developing a “demon mode” is anyone’s next step toward sanctification.
Before rushing out to buy the book, know that copying Elon Musk or other uber-achievers isn’t likely to lead to the next breakthrough in life. Below are three reasons why emulating Musk is the wrong approach and one idea you can take from Musk’s success that would be worth examining.
1. You aren’t Elon Musk: Isaacson describes Musk as addicted to risk. He has taken huge risks multiple times to launch businesses. A key mantra is: Take Risks, Blow Things Up, Revise, Repeat. Most of us are risk-averse, meaning we take risks when the goal we want to reach is worth the pain. Musk takes risks because he wants to. If you don’t believe me, watch a video of the bulletproof glass breaking on the Tesla pickup truck. His talents in manufacturing allowed him to launch the first successful American automobile company since Chrysler in 1925. Adopting his methods, without his talent and personality, won’t generate the same success. Instead, focus on how God has gifted you.
2. You don’t want to be Elon Musk: I listened to an interview with Isaacson where he spoke about Musk’s personality. According to Isaacson, Musk has an aversion to contentment. A magnet with Philippians 4:12 likely doesn’t reside on Musk’s refrigerator. He is confrontational and a control freak. The singer Grimes, the mother of three of Musk’s children, confided that Musk has a destructive “demon mode” that makes him unpleasant to be around. Musk’s brother says he lacks the empathy gene. Yet, those personality traits are so intertwined with his worldly success. It’s hard for me to imagine that developing a “demon mode” is anyone’s next step toward sanctification.
3. You won’t succeed like Elon Musk: Taking one person’s massive success and applying those lessons ignores all the twists and turns that created the opportunity for that person. Have you ever heard of Aptera or Coda? They were two electronic vehicle makers who raised significant capital with plans to make it big like Tesla. Neither survived. In his excellent work The Psychology of Money, Morgan Housel cautions, “The more extreme the outcome, the less likely you can apply its lessons to your own life, because the more likely extreme ends of luck and risk influenced the outcome. You’ll get closer to actionable takeaways by looking for broad patterns of success and failure. The more common the pattern, the more applicable it might be to your life.”
What should we take from the unfinished story of Elon Musk? While Musk is characterized as addicted to risk, Christians often overvalue security and safety. I encourage everyone to do a risk assessment of their life and identify an area where they can take more risk for the opportunity. The frequent Biblical command to “Be not afraid” is often given before significant historical moments. It also reminds us that we aren’t the first generation to lean towards fear over opportunity. Listen to God and observe where He is prompting you to move from fear to something greater.
Scott Kubie, CFA