Ways to shift your thinking so you can be as innovative as Elon Musk

Although we by no means met in school, Elon Musk and I attended joint diploma packages on the College of Pennsylvania and Wharton Enterprise Faculty over the identical years. I’ve studied his profession ever since and even interviewed him as soon as. You certainly know the contours: He grew PayPal into the dominant on-line funds answer. Then, he led Tesla Motors to the primary U.S. car IPO since Ford Motor Firm. Musk additionally helped rework the aerospace trade with SpaceX, not to point out launching or co-launching SolarCity, Neuralink, which is creating ultra-high bandwidth mind to machine-brain interfaces. There’s additionally the Boring Firm, which goals to revolutionize transportation via the development of underground tunnels.

It might appear that extremely profitable innovators like Musk sprung had been gifted with genius or luck. How else may they repeatedly predict the potential of profitable revolutionary concepts? However analysis reveals innate intelligence is simply a part of the reply and fortune can be created.

The supply of repeated success lies extra immediately in innovative patterns of thinking. And when you can determine these patterns, you can undertake the identical thinking playbook to generate your personal disruptive improvements.


My analysis and doctorate work are primarily based on a framework of thirty-six strategic patterns that can be used to analyze how essentially the most innovative corporations and enterprise leaders suppose. On this article, I’ll dissect three strategic performs that align with Musk’s corporations and clarify how you can activate the identical playbook in your enterprise or profession.

Sample 1: Transfer to the following battleground early

In Might 2020, SpaceX turned the primary privately held firm to transport NASA astronauts to the Worldwide House Station. Again in 2008, I requested Musk why he thought his SpaceX firm would succeed. His response was, “I simply suppose a future wherein any firm can ship folks into house is extra attention-grabbing than one wherein solely the federal government can.” Musk acknowledged that fields of play are shifting quickly and that the battlegrounds of the long run could not be right here on Earth.

Innovators like Musk should not following the foundations of right now. Actually, they don’t seem to be even taking part in right now’s sport. They’re trying forward to begin taking part in a brand new sport with totally new guidelines. Athletes will acknowledge Wayne Gretsky’s philosophy, (which got here from his father Walter) “Go to the place the puck goes, not the place it has been.” Because the tempo of change accelerates, it’s not sufficient to have a plan to win the present sport. It’s essential to have plans for future video games and learn the way to flip battleground shifts to your benefit.

To determine your subsequent alternatives, ask your self:

  • The place is the following battleground?
  • What can I do to transfer there early now?
  • What new applied sciences, social shifts, or financial adjustments underway will change the long run for my profession and trade in the long run?

Sample 2: Be good 

Since Milton Friedman popularized this view of capitalism within the Nineteen Sixties, it was assumed that companies existed for one major function: to create wealth for his or her shareholders. However the final twenty years have challenged that paradigm. Now, corporations that survive are those that generate worth for a number of stakeholders—prospects, workers, suppliers, communities, and the atmosphere. A wise technique is one which maximizes shareholder worth by benefiting all stakeholders.

Tesla Motors embodies a “Be good” technique by saving tons of CO2 emissions per car, setting new requirements for low vitality and water utilization, putting in photo voltaic panels to generate sustainable international vitality, responsibly sourcing commodities, and hiring as a “minority-majority” firm.


Musk revealed this sample a few years earlier, within the early days of PayPal, when he said “It’s higher to method this [building a company] from the standpoint of claiming–fairly than you need to be an entrepreneur or you need to generate profits–what are some helpful issues that you try this you want existed on this planet?” When your progress is sweet for the world, that’s the final word technique.

To do good in your group, ask:

  • Who else, apart from your shareholders, advantages from your progress?
  • What income mannequin will incentivize you to hold making the precise decisions?
  • Do you passionately talk how your progress is sweet for the world?

Sample 3: Create a deer within the headlights second 

When Musk took over Tesla, car corporations had been dealing with the incoming potential of electrical autos like deer in headlights. This occurs when an organization is locked in a conflicting agenda. Everyone knows they need to do “A” however doing so would imply damaging “B.” For instance, within the early days, Sony knew radio producers like RCA ought to cease promoting the outdated vacuum-tube radios and embrace new transistor expertise. However RCA and others made so a lot cash from promoting their outdated, clunky bins, they resisted. Sony moved in. Later Sony bought caught within the headlights. It ought to have embraced digital music and plugged it into its well-liked Walkman transportable gamers, but it surely fearful this may harm the music label it owned. It hesitated. Apple’s iPod moved in.

Equally, Musk acknowledged that huge car corporations had been dragging their heels in introducing the sorts of thrilling electrical autos that might cannibalize their worthwhile fleets of gas-powered ones. So Tesla moved in.

You possibly can say Musk is now following the identical thinking course of with Neuralink. Whereas most AI gamers are targeted on advancing AI, he acknowledges they don’t seem to be targeted on people. He has overtly voiced his concerns that AI will ultimately surpass human intelligence. Neuralink, an organization that goals to sidestep rampant funding in synthetic intelligence by linking the mind with computer systems, Musk claims, will allow people to compete with AI.

To search out your personal “deer within the headlights” second, ask:

  • What are rivals targeted on defending?
  • What alternative or want does this imply they’ll resist pursuing?
  • What would occur if you stepped within the hole of their inaction?

To begin shifting to suppose extra like Elon Musk, ask your self these three questions:

  1. What are you doing now to put together for the following battleground and the way can you use that preparation to disrupt your rivals? (Transfer early to the following battleground)
  2. What may you begin or what may you cease doing to do higher on this planet? (Be good)
  3. What buyer or model attribute will your competitors select not to defend? (Deer within the headlights)

Creators and innovators like Elon Musk seem to draw on a secret wellspring of successful concepts to captivate prospects and impression the world. Nevertheless, such a stream of profitable concepts is out there to all of us, if we perceive and begin making use of new thinking patterns.