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Elon Musk recommends asking 4 simple questions to achieve breakthrough innovation

by Matt Pressman

The Wall Street Journal spent some time recently with Elon Musk. What transpired turned out to be a surprising (and often fascinating) interview. That said, most post-interview buzz only highlighted one thing: Elon’s move from California to Texas. Big news, granted, but during Elon’s discussion with WSJ editor-in-chief Matt Murray, Musk revealed some valuable insight into his personal keys to innovation. 

Elon Musk, Tesla Meeting 2016

Above: Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk

Between Tesla, SpaceX, The Boring Company, and Neuralink, Elon Musk definitely has his hands full. That said, he always innovates — often in established industries ripe for disruption. So how does he do it?

After analyzing the WSJ interview, Minda Zetlin at Inc. notes that creating innovative products is “absolutely learnable” according to Musk. In the end, the path to innovation all comes down to answering a few simple questions. 


In the WSJ interview Elon emphasized, “Step number one would be: try. And have you tried and have you tried hard? And if you haven’t tried hard, try hard. It’s not some mysterious thing. It’s basically just be like an absolute perfectionist about the product that you make [or] the service that’s provided.”


“Seek negative feedback from all quarters; from customers, from people who aren’t customers. Like, ‘Hey, OK, how can we make this better?’ Just get out there on the factory floor, get out there in the stores, talk to customers, think about what would you love to have. If you don’t love it, don’t expect others will either,” explains Elon.


Elon admits, “When I have spent too much time in a conference room, that’s generally when things have gone awry. And when I got to spend time on the factory floor, or really using the cars, thinking about the rockets, that’s where things have gone better.” He adds, “If you find yourself spending a lot of time getting presentations and reviewing spreadsheets, you’re barking up the wrong tree.”


According to Elon,

“I find that if I am engrossed in the details of the issues, this does not result in [the staff] feeling worse, but feeling better. They’re, in my experience, more energized. The troops are going to fight a lot harder if they see the general in the front lines than if they think the general is in some cushy situation. Get out there on the goddamn front line and show them that you care, and that you’re not just in some posh office somewhere.”

Did Elon have more to say on the matter? Of course. Plenty of lessons from the Tesla CEO can be learned after viewing this in-depth WSJ interview. To that end, it’s definitely worth watching the entire discussion if you want to learn more about how Musk does what he does. To check it out (in full), see below.

Elon Musk on Tesla, SpaceX and Why He Left Silicon Valley | WSJ

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