How does Elon Musk do what he does? How does he revolutionize industry after industry? And most importantly, what can other intelligent, ambitious people do to transform themselves into an Elon Musk?

In short, how can humanity produce more Elon Musks?

This document exists to answer that question.

What follows is the result of my reading, watching, and analyzing every public comment Elon has ever made and publicly-available interview Elon has ever done (that’s on YouTube or other major media sites), every biography of him or his companies, and every major analysis performed by others (especially Tim Urban’s).

The Short Version

Fundamentally, Elon Musk can do what he does because of his methodology, which I call Global Optimizer in Chief. He first becomes a true world expert in the area where he is about to start a new company, and understands every layer of abstraction within every product he makes so that he can customize every component in order to create the best overall solution.

Everyone else is one kind of specialist or another, but not Elon; he understands it all.

His Methodology

Elon knows that he can’t prevent the company from going off the rails if he doesn’t understand every layer of abstraction in the entire company (especially within the products), and so to decrease existential risk to said company, he keeps the entire company in his head, and uses that information to globally optimize everything. Everyone else in the company is optimizing less globally than he (and at his direction), but still more globally than almost anyone does at non-Elon companies. Elon himself calls this “Everyone is Chief Engineer”; everyone understands how their own work fits into the big picture.

Almost every other CEO/CTO stops trying to understand everything as things scale. At some point, the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, and it becomes very difficult to solve or even identify problems that cut across teams or divisions of the company.

In Ashley Vance’s biography, there is a scene that makes it clear that Elon has structured SpaceX so that he can go around to the team leaders and receive detailed updates to augment his mental model of everything happening in the company, then he uses that info to globally optimize some more.

The Steps

  1. Acquire all existing expert knowledge about the target domain
  2. Create a promising prototype that shows off the potential of your core product idea
  3. Raise millions of dollars, hire the greatest people in the world with the skill sets you need to build the first product and who have the ability to think
  4. Build the product
  5. Use that revenue to create newer, better versions of your core product, to create complementary products, and to innovate at lower and lower levels of the stack

What is Not Unique

As Tim Urban put it,

If it were just Musk’s money or intelligence or ambition or good intentions that made him so capable, there would be more Elon Musks out there.

Elon’s Key Beliefs

  1. You should try to make your product the best in every dimension

This sounds like a joke, but it isn’t. That’s because it’s quite common for startup to shy away from trying to make the best product because they assume it will not be feasible to.

Whenever a startup founder says “we’re an engineering-focused company”, they are giving themselves an excuse for everything else to be second-rate (e.g., design).


1. Interesting analysis! But why should I believe it is accurate?

Because it is based on all publicly available information about Elon Musk from someone who, like Elon, is a deep-thinking entrepreneur, INTJ, programmer, engineer, and technologist.

I hope to soon integrate further comments and insights from many people who have worked closely with Elon for years.

2. “A lot of world-class entrepreneurs have become VCs, and those same VCs say it’s time to build. Why don’t most of them quit immediately to actually, you know, build?”

Because they’re lazy cowards, perhaps?

3. “Why not include more citations?”

That’s coming in the next version!

4. “I’m an INTJ too, and I have so many ideas about everything all the time that it’s hard to stay focused!”

Elon’s projects are so ambitious and multifaceted, I suspect that his needing to learn so much all the time to keep improving things at each company is a great way to remain energized and intellectually stimulated, and thereby avoiding getting too abstracted away from the product and distracted by other projects!