Tag: Elon Musk

Elon Musk on How To Build Knowledge

elon musk
Elon Musk recently did an AMA on reddit. Here are three question-and-response pairs that I enjoyed, including how to build knowledge.

He knows how to say I don’t know.

Previously, you’ve stated that you estimate a 50% probability of success with the attempted landing on the automated spaceport drone ship tomorrow. Can you discuss the factors that were considered to make that estimation?

Musk: I pretty much made that up. I have no idea :)

Everyone has that one teacher…

I’m a teacher, and I always wonder what I can do to help my students achieve big things. What’s something your teachers did for you while you were in school that helped to encourage your ideas and thinking? Or, if they didn’t, what’s something they could have done better?

Musk: The best teacher I ever had was my elementary school principal. Our math teacher quit for some reason and he decided to sub in himself for math and accelerate the syllabus by a year.

We had to work like the house was on fire for the first half of the lesson and do extra homework, but then we got to hear stories of when he was a soldier in WWII. If you didn’t do the work, you didn’t get to hear the stories. Everybody did the work.

Finally, his answer on building knowledge reminds me of The Five Elements of Effective Thinking and the latticework of mental models.

How do you learn so much so fast? Lots of people read books and talk to other smart people, but you’ve taken it to a whole new level.

Musk: I do kinda feel like my head is full! My context switching penalty is high and my process isolation is not what it used to be.

Frankly, though, I think most people can learn a lot more than they think they can. They sell themselves short without trying.

One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree — make sure you understand the fundamental principles, ie the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.

Follow your curiosity to Elon Musk Recommends 12 Books.

(image source: forbes)

Elon Musk Recommends 12 Books that Changed his Life

Musk
The best thing about Elon Musk is that he makes us dream big again. Musk, of course, is the billionaire behind Tesla and SpaceX.

Charlie Munger was asked a question about him at the 2014 Daily Journal Meeting and he replied:

I think Elon Musk is a genius, and I don’t use that word lightly. I think he’s also one of the boldest men that ever came down the pike.

Whenever anyone asks him how he learned to build rockets, he says, ‘I read books.’ Not only does he read them, according to his interview with Esquire, he devours them. After meeting Musk, people tend to walk away with the same reaction: ‘He’s the smartest guy I’ve ever met.’

Not to be outdone by his friend and co-founder, Peter Thiel, who offered some reading recommendations, Musk has a few of his own that influenced him.

In an interview with Design and Architecture, Musk said “In terms of sci-fi books, I think Isaac Asimov is really great. I like the Foundation series, probably one of the all-time best. Robert Heinlein, obviously. I like The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress and I like Stranger in a Strange Land, although it kind of goes off the rails at the end.” He continues “There’s a good book on structural design called Structures: Or Why Things Don’t Fall Down. It is really, really good if you want a primer on structural design.”

Here are some of his other reading recommendations.

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. He told the New Yorker that as an “undersized and picked upon smart-aleck,” he turned to reading fantasy and science fiction. “The heroes of the books I read, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and the ‘Foundation’ series, always felt a duty to save the world.”

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson. “He was an entrepreneur,” Musk says in an interview. “He started from nothing. He was just a runaway kid.”

In that same interview, he also recommends Einstein: His Life and Universe, also by Isaacson.

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel, I’ve already said this is required reading for Farnam Streeters. On this book, Musk says: “Peter Thiel has built multiple breakthrough companies, and (this book) shows how.”

Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nick Bostrom. “Worth reading Superintelligence by Bostrom. We need to be super careful with AI. Potentially more dangerous than nukes.” Musk tweeted. Of course I bought this.

Howard Hughes: His Life and Madness by Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele.  Recently, in an interview with CNN, he mentioned having just finished this book. Musk calls it a “cautionary tale.”

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Here is an excerpt from an interview where he explains why this was a key book for him:

Alison van Diggelen: I understand Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, that wonderful book by Douglas Adams, that was a key book for you. What was it about that book that fired your imagination?

Elon Musk: I guess when I was around 12 or 15 … I had an existential crisis, and I was reading various books on trying to figure out the meaning of life and what does it all mean? It all seemed quite meaningless and then we happened to have some books by Nietzsche and Schopenhauer in the house, which you should not read at age 14 (laughter). It is bad, it’s really negative. So then I read Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy which is quite positive I think and it highlighted an important point which is that a lot of times the question is harder than the answer. And if you can properly phrase the question, then the answer is the easy part. So, to the degree that we can better understand the universe, then we can better know what questions to ask. Then whatever the question is that most approximates: what’s the meaning of life? That’s the question we can ultimately get closer to understanding. And so I thought to the degree that we can expand the scope and scale of consciousness and knowledge, then that would be a good thing.”

Finally, we get to the rocket science part.

Ignition!: An informal history of liquid rocket propellants by John D. Clark
“There is a good book on rocket stuff called ‘Ignition!’ by John Clark that’s a really fun one,” Musk said in an interview. Becoming a rocket scientist isn’t cheap. This book recommendation from Musk will set you back about 3k for a used copy (it’s also free on the web)

​​(Additional Sources: Business Insider and favobooks)

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