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The Surprising Things I Learned About Elon Musk’s Mind

The Surprising Things I Learned About Elon Musk’s Mind

As a famous billionaire, Elon Musk must be a positive and optimistic person, right? Well, not entirely. The entrepreneur who helped launch PayPal, Tesla, SolarCity and SpaceX, is actually more of a “realist” and may even, at times, be a pessimist.

He attributes his success, not to positive thinking, but rather, his relentless drive to get things done. Musk doesn’t really have a positive view of things. But he doesn’t have a negative view either. Instead, he tends to just out-work, out-think and out-plan everyone else.

In this article, I put the words of Elon Musk under a microscope. After reviewing countless videos and reading numerous articles – I am shocked and surprised by what I discovered. You will be too.

I thought both Tesla and SpaceX
would fail.

Elon Musk expected to lose all of the money he poured into his electric car company Tesla and his space venture. How can that be? Why would anyone go into a business expecting to fail? The key here is what Musk said next.

I will take half the money I made from selling PayPal and if I lose that, it’s okay.

We learn that Musk could afford to take the risk. He still had half of his fortune in his pocket.

Lesson learned: Make sure you can afford to lose.

I came close to a nervous breakdown. I never thought of myself as someone who could have a nervous breakdown, and I thought ‘this sucks!’

The early days of Tesla and SpaceX were brutal. Both companies were in serious financial trouble so Musk did what he should not have done. He poured not half, but all of his money into the fledgling enterprises.

But that didn’t help. It was 2008 when the economy was in serious trouble, Musk was suffering from a divorce, attempts to get more financing for Tesla had fallen apart, and SpaceX had three rocket failures.

Musk had come dangerously close to a nervous breakdown and bankruptcy.

Then, things got a little better. Almost completely broke, Musk went for a fourth rocket launch at SpaceX towards the end of 2008 using the last bit of money he had. The launch went well.

A $45 billion NASA contract followed at which time a rejuvenated Musk said to NASA “I love you guys.”

As for the Tesla financing, it finally came through on what Musk said was, “the last hour of the last day it was possible.”

Talk about letting things go down to the wire.

For most of 2008, Musk was living through hell. But at Christmas time of that year, his entire world suddenly, and unexpectedly, turned upside down for the better.

Was it pure luck?

It was not.

Musk outlasted his problems.

Lesson learned: Just like a sports team that is down by one point in the dying seconds of a game, we need to play the game until the last bell has rung.


Elon Musk watched his fortune and his dreams literally blow apart when the third rocket at SpaceX, seen here, exploded. 

I wanted to move to this mystical place.

Geography, it seems, matters. At least it did to Musk. When asked in a 2014 interview what his best idea was, Musk said “Moving to North America.”

Originally from South Africa, he believed that by being in Silicon Valley, he could reap the benefits of an innovation culture, hoping some of the success there would rub off on him.

It did.

What is Elon Musk hoping for now? The one traditional piece of advice we always hear is “think big” and it is on this point, that Musk did not surprise me. Because he does exactly that.

In fact, listening to Musk talk about his big ideas is like listening to a 10-year old child with a wild imagination.

He wants to see people on mars, and hopes he will die there. He’d like electric cars to dominate our roadways and have every house hooked up to renewable energy.


The surprising conclusion is that Elon Musk is not a positive thinker. He doesn’t depend on hope or an optimistic viewpoint to get him through. He also doesn’t believe in forcing yourself to be happy when times are tough.

In his words, “If your personal and work lives are going well, then you’ll be happy. And if they’re not, then you won’t be happy.”

The success of Elon Musk can be attributed to these five things.:

Be a realist.

  • Plan for, and expect, the worst case scenario (not the best).
  • Take risks but calculated risks.
  • Stay in the game until the last possible second.

Above all, think big. Very big. Almost to the point where you sound like a little kid with wild dreams.

That’s exactly who Elon Musk is.

See the soft spoken, candid and contemplative Elon Musk answer some tough questions in this 2014 interview. Musk, who can be awkward in many interviews, loosens up as the interview progresses. 

Note: The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views held by Inc42, its creators or employees. Inc42 is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by guest bloggers.


Cory Galbraith is the President of Galbraith Communications, an international IT company specializing in online streaming.
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