My Six Lessons and Takeaways from the book Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance

We study books about leaders. We read histories about their companies. We read biographies, authorized and unauthorized. And then, we ask how can we copy them, emulate them, do what they do? I’m not sure it would be a simple task. Or, to quote Walter Isaacson, maybe the Steve Jobs of the world are simply not replicable.

Mr. Isaacson puts Steve Jobs into a truly elite group of three: Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Steve Jobs. From Mr. Isaacson’s Steve Jobs:

Steve Jobs became the greatest business executive of our era, the one most certain to be remembered a century from now. History will place him in the pantheon right next to Edison and Ford. More than anyone else of his time, he made products that were completely innovative, combining the power of poetry and processors. With a ferocity that could make working with him as unsettling as it was inspiring, he also built the world’s most creative company. And he was able to infuse into its DNA the design sensibilities, perfectionism, and imagination that make it likely to be, even decades from now, the company that thrives best at the intersection of artistry and technology.

It is beginning to look like Elon Musk could be the 4th name added to that very exclusive list.

ELON-COVER-BOOK-LARGELast Friday, I presented my synopsis of the terrific, recently-published book by Ashlee Vance, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. Here is my summary of the book (actually, of the person Elon Musk):

Elon Musk is not out to build a car company, or a space-travel company, or any other company.
He is not out to make money.
Elon Musk is out to save the planet, and ultimately, to save the species.
He is not a small dreamer.
And, in the course of his pursuits, he has built the best car in the history of cars, and he may in fact fully build that space-travel company.
(Oh, and don’t forget his Solar Power Company, and maybe his Hyperloop transportation system, and…).
(And… Elon Musk as inspiration for Tony Stark)…

And, here is the “short history” I listed near the beginning of my handout:

  • (1995) – Zip2 (Think Google Maps and Yelp – a very early version)
  • PayPal
  • SpaceX
  • Tesla – the electric car company
  • (And, don’t forget SolarCity or the Hyperloop)
  • And pay attention to his intentions regarding Mars

My first suggestion is that you read this book. I felt like it captured Elon Musk — the story and the person. One of our regular participants at the First Friday Book Synopsis said that he left with a sense of the man. And, Elon Musk is such a fascinating person that it really is worth your time to read this book.

But, you might want to grab my synopsis (it will be available soon on our companion site, You will be able to listen to my synopsis, and follow along with the handout provided.

I ended my synopsis with six lessons and takeaways. Here they are:

#1 – Who you were definitely shapes who you are – a difficult (horrendous) childhood, and a lone reader, became the stick-to-it learner/dreamer.
#2 – The over-riding purpose has to be great to accomplish things as great as SpaceX and Tesla.
#3 – Making it genuinely big, in a way that holds great promise to make a big difference, may require great – really great – risk. At least it did for Elon Musk.
#4 – You really can read and study your way to genuine solutions. (And, not reading and studying can truly leave you behind). – But, I’m referring to genuine, thorough, deep-deep-dives…
#5 – The leader has to know enough to understand, be sharp enough and bold enough to decide, and then surround himself/herself with world-class talent.
#6 – And, the work ethic required is true, all-in, stick-to-it work ethic.


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