Elon Musk on Being Tony Stark If only he had a suit of armour.

If anyone could be described as a real-life Tony Stark, it would be Elon Musk. This South African native has been a part of several businesses that have not only changed the Internet, but the entire world.

Let’s look at his resume: he started an online city guide service called Zip2, which was acquired by Compaq for $307 million – in 1995. He then founded X.com, an online payment system similar to PayPal; Musk eventually came to run both, creating a viral campaign which secured PayPal’s early success. PayPal was acquired by eBay for US$1.5 billion.

He then decided to think bigger, co-founding two companies, Tesla Motors and SpaceX, which would bring ideas to life which could be considered fantasies. Tesla produces realistic, consumer-friendly electric cars and SpaceX is the first commercial spaceflight company to be trusted to deliver goods to the International Space Station.

When he’s discussing the Hyperloop, a high-velocity, cross-country travel system, suddenly Musk teaching himself to program at 13 doesn’t seem that out of the ordinary.

However, what makes Musk a Year One candidate is how he approaches the new ventures that he’s interested in. In a Quora post by his SpaceX partner Jim Cantrell, Jim explains that the reason Musk is able to learn literal rocket science well enough to become a leader in space travel is how he motivates himself to learn.

“He literally sucks the knowledge and experience out of people that he is around.  He borrowed all of my college texts on rocket propulsion when we first started working together in 2001.  We also hired as many of my colleagues in the rocket and spacecraft business that were willing to consult with him.  It was like a gigantic spaceapalooza. “

Others in the same thread mention that Musk was able to go from knowing nothing about rockets to knowing everything about the SpaceX rocket in two years. While this is clearly intimidating to think about when starting a project of your own, Cantrell believes that Musk is lacking something that gives him an advantage:

“The one major important distinction that sets him apart is his inability to consider failure.  It simply is not even in his thought process.  He cannot conceive of  failure and that is truly remarkable.  It doesn’t matter if its going up against the banking system (Paypal), going up against the entire  aerospace industry (SpaceX) or going up against the US auto industry (Tesla).

He can’t imagine NOT succeeding and that is a very critical  trait that leads him ultimately to success.”

When you’re starting a new project, hobby or interest, quiet the part of your mind that fears “looking bad” when you fail. If possible, quiet the part of your mind that’s concerned about failing in general – focus on learning, learning well, and learning lots. If your interest is a career-defining move, you owe it to yourself to be as versatile as possible.

While it can be difficult to put yourself in this zone, there’s obviously tangible benefits: you put less pressure on yourself to apply your knowledge and let your confidence fuel your motivation. While it may not be rocket science, you’ll come out stronger in the end.


Image Credit: Heisenberg Media (Flickr: Elon Musk – The Summit 2013) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons