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6 reasons for Elon Musk’s galactic success, from someone who knows him well
(Maurizio Pesce//CC)

Having known tech entrepreneur Elon Musk for more than 20 years, engineer, physician and XPrize Foundation founder Peter Diamandis has seen Musk through the lows and highs, from going into debt financing the creation of Falcon-1 to becoming the richest man in the world.


The pair, whose professional careers have crossed paths on numerous occasions, recently announced a $100 million prize for their XPRIZE Carbon Removal competition and share a fascination with space exploration. Diamandis has great respect for Musk's enterprise, even saying he is possibly the "greatest entrepreneur of our age."

Diamandis (second from right) and Musk (far right) pictured in zero gravity together. (Diamandis.com)


As one of Fortune's World's 50 Greatest Leaders, Diamandis knows a thing or two about success and shares what he believes built Musk to where he is today.

Deep-rooted passion

​According to Diamandis, Musk doesn't enter into business ventures that he doesn't believe in. The Tesla and SpaceX CEO said he got into the car, space and solar industry because he believes that in order to make a difference, you must "create something substantially better than what came before. His abilities to stay focused, push forward through adversity and love for his craft are just some of the traits that make Musk successful, Diamandis said.

Massively Transformative Purpose

Something Diamandis says all successful ventures have in common: Massively Transformative Purpose, or a motivation to do great things. The MTP for Tesla and SolarCity, a subsidiary under Tesla that makes solar generation systems, is a transition to sustainable energy, while SpaceX's MTP is a backup biosphere to bring humanity to the cosmos. Diamandis said it is this passion and purpose that keeps all of Musk's ventures afloat.

Singular, unwavering focus

Musk has been known to zero in on the task at hand, sleeping in his office and putting in 80-hour weeks to keep the machine well-oiled. Diamandis said the key is what is called a "flow state," a highly enjoyable state where work becomes energizing and immersive that is achieved through passion, purpose and focus. Where many people might feel burned out, Musk is energized.

First principles thinking

​Instead of a default mode of thinking, Diamandis says Musk uses first principles thinking, a mode of inquiry that "relentlessly" pursues the fundamentals of a problem. For instance, when developing new batteries, Musk continued to dig for a more affordable option than the standard and rejected that the present was the peak of performance. Musk was able to develop a battery that ran for $80 per kilowatt-hour, down from $600 per kilowatt-hour. The strategy allows people to edit out the unnecessary.

Thinking in probabilities 

Nothing is ever certain, so according to Diamandis, Musk does not think in black and white. Thinking probabilistically—weighing chances based on different outcomes—as opposed to deterministically—as in A + B = C, something that has a definitive outcome—leans on different possibilities and discoveries. It goes against the inherent train of thought but gives way to new outcomes.

Not settling for "no"/Not giving up

A "no" is a green light to go one step higher, as Diamandis says, and conviction is key. Musk expects and embraces failure, always budgeting for a few mistakes in his endeavors, even going into debt despite his missteps. If your purpose and passion are strong enough, they will drive your vision.

In summation: Mindset is key for creating a Musk-worthy career.

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