Elon Musk hasn’t become a household name by chance. The founder and CEO of SpaceX, CEO of Tesla, and co-founder of Neuralink (to name just a few of his ventures) is clearly unafraid of hard work, and he knows what it takes to go from innovative idea to undeniable success.
The most surprising ingredient? Failure.
For a serial entrepreneur and one of the globe’s richest people, Musk demonstrates a healthy amount of humility. In an interview at an energy conference in Norway, he offers a piece of advice to anyone looking to start a business:
You should take the approach that you’re wrong. Your goal is to be less wrong.
The benefit of being wrong
By “wrong,” Musk isn’t saying that you should assume your business idea is a bad one. Instead, he’s highlighting the importance of a growth mindset in a characteristically succinct and memorable way.
You obviously believe in your idea if you’re willing to put in the work needed to try and make it a reality, but Musk’s words are a caution against letting that belief and optimism cloud your ability to think objectively and look for improvement.
As Musk points out, “When you first start a company, there’s lots of optimism and things are great. Happiness, at first, is high. Then, you encounter all sorts of issues and happiness will steadily decline and you’ll go through a whole world of hurt.”
By adopting a growth mindset and assuming “you’re wrong” from the start, you’ll be able to spot impending issues earlier and minimize the inevitable pain and suffering Musk describes.
There are lots of strategies out there to encourage the adoption of a growth mindset, but these are the ones that Musk himself relies on.
1. Seize the opportunity to be better than the rest.
When Musk sought to land a miniature greenhouse on Mars as part of the Mars Oasis project, he went to Russia to shop for refurbished intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). When quoted a price of $8 million per rocket, he reasoned that it was possible to make more affordable rockets by starting his own company. As he points out, “If you’re entering an existing marketplace against large, entrenched competitors, your product or service needs to be much better than theirs.” The secret sauce of SpaceX? Making major rocket components reusable to lower the price.
2. Seek out criticism.
Musk takes the quest for criticism seriously because he thinks that few things are more important for a successful business. As he explains, “A well thought out critique of whatever you’re doing is as valuable as gold. You should seek that from everyone you can but particularly your friends. Usually, your friends know what’s wrong, but they don’t want to tell you because they don’t want to hurt you.” Instead of relying on them to offer their advice, actively seek it out.
3. Surround yourself with the best.
In addition to his bachelor’s degrees in economics and physics, Musk has additional experience in a wide variety of fields. Despite all this knowledge, he’s still aware that he doesn’t have all the answers, and he gets advice from the people around him regularly. Even if you don’t agree with their input, Musk advises that “you at least want to listen very carefully to what they say.”
To an outsider, it might appear that Musk has the Midas touch, but the technology entrepreneur has no such false notion. Instead, he recognizes that there are no guarantees, and he readily admits that “Tesla almost didn’t succeed. It came very close to failure.”
While he’s very candid about the pain of starting a business, he also acknowledges the light at the end of the tunnel. “Eventually, if you succeed … you will finally get back to happiness.”
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