Success leaves clues: While what he's achieved has made him seem unique, many of Musk's behaviours are entirely replicable.
There are only 24 hours in every day, and you can’t squeeze out an extra second. Yet some people manage to be so productive and innovative they become billionaires at an age when most of us are still struggling to make ends meet. Even among billionaires, some stand out more than others, capturing the hearts of admirers everywhere.
Elon Musk is arguably one of the most well-liked and respected billionaires today. With Tesla’s recent Model 3 announcement, he continues to stay relevant. Let’s take a look at how Musk has stayed one step ahead of a very elite pack. What habits set him apart from his peers?
1. He reads the way most people watch TV
Like Buffett, who claims to read around 500 pages a day, Musk is the definition of a bookworm. When he was in grade school, he was reading ten hours a day, devouring everything in his library and the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, and completed a six-month BASIC course in just three days.
2. He doggedly pursues his own interests
If his healthy reading habits weren’t already a giveaway, Musk is a true believer in self-guided learning. At the age of 12, he used his BASIC skills to program Blastar, a self-made video game which he sold to PC and Office Technology for R5 000. Musk also doubled majored in physics and economics, then interned for both ultra-capacitor research and video game companies.
Today, he’s worth R145 billion and runs businesses that seem to have nothing to do with one another. Except they all do, of course – Musk is genuinely interested in them. It’s no surprise that he’s the main inspiration behind Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man character.
3. He is tirelessly, unflaggingly optimistic
While the first two traits are true for most successful business people, Musk also has an ace up his sleeve – he has a strong glass-half-full mentality. His Forbes profile sums this up best by describing two of his companies as “moonshot tech companies.” Except Musk doesn’t think of them as moonshots at all.
The secret to his innovation lies in his enthusiasm. This is a guy who grew up with an emotionally abusive father and was once bullied and beat up so badly that he needed to go to the hospital. “If you wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be better, it is a bright day. Otherwise, it’s not.”
Musk genuinely believes that what he’s doing is good for the world, and that it’s making a positive difference. In fact, he believes so much in SpaceX that there are two giant posters in his office: before and after scenarios of what Mars will look like once he’s colonised the planet. “I want to die on Mars. Just not on impact.”
4. Yet he still believes failure is an option
Countless people – some of them very qualified experts – told Musk his ideas were ridiculous and bound to fail. Yet Musk managed to ignore them all and do things the way he wanted.
Granted, some of his ideas never quite took off. But many more succeeded and are dazzling investors and consumers alike. “Failure is an option here. If you’re not failing, you’re not innovating enough.” Or, put another way, “There’s a tremendous bias against taking risks. Everyone is trying to optimise their ass-covering.”
5. And he really, really knows how to party
Business week writer Ashlee Vance wrote a book about Musk titled Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and The Quest for a Fantastic Future that revealed some interesting insights into Elon’s private life – especially how much of a party animal he is.
Here are some of the more fascinating factoids:
- He paid for college in Ontario by turning his frat house into a well-run nightclub.
- On his 30th birthday celebration, he rented out an English castle for a party of 20 and played hide-and-seek games until 6 am.
- He once threw a costume party in Venice (of course) and came dressed as a knight. Then he dueled a mini Darth Vader with a parasol.
Parties aside, Musk also just knows how to have a really good time in general:
- After selling his first video game, he started a video game arcade in South Africa as a teenager.
- He totaled an uninsured McLaren F1 doing tricks on Sand Hill Road en route to an investor meeting, and ended up hitching a ride instead. The sports car was worth $1 million.
- He’s going to build a roller coaster around the SpaceX HQ, just because.
You don’t have to have a PhD to be a pioneer
Before he sold PayPal and became the multi-billionaire innovator we all admire, Musk decided to give graduate school a shot. He enrolled in a Stanford PhD program – and dropped out after just two days. That’s all it took for him to realise that there probably wasn’t too much he could learn from the class that he couldn’t learn on his own.
Related: 5 Visionary CEOs and Their Key Traits That Every Leader Should Master
Most of us, if we were fortunate and talented enough to be accepted by a PhD program at Stanford, probably would have attended. Musk didn’t because he already had all the skills he needed to be successful. He was laser-focused on his interests, intensely curious, unflaggingly optimistic, and unafraid to fail.
What about you?