Elon Musk is one busy man working to tackle some extremely ambitious projects. At this year’s TED Conference in April, Musk spoke of some ideas that are the focus of his efforts these days, none of which are simple: 3D tunnel network, hyperloop high-speed transit tube, autonomous driving, Tesla’s upcoming heavy duty long range transport truck, solar glass roof tiles, artificial intelligence, and a multi-planet future. Watching Musk over the course of the talk – his excitement, his level of intentionality, and his abstract and parallel thought process – was fascinating and I pulled some key lessons I think we can all take away.

Think Big

Elon Musk shoots for the moon. In fact, his sights are set on something even bigger – Mars! He is committed to systems change and creating a future that is inspiring and appealing. He is not letting existing institutions and infrastructure curtail his thinking.

Nobody believed an electric car could achieve what Tesla has proven. The Model S was awarded the best car in 2015 and, by consumer reports, as the best car ever in terms of performance. Musk knew that it was important to demonstrate that an electric car can incorporate performance, design, and comfort to attract a mass audience. He has also worked simultaneously to build the necessary infrastructure to support a network of electric cars. Cars are about having the freedom to travel and without charging stations around the world, Tesla would not create mass appeal. The Model E is coming out by the end of 2017 and, with a price tag of only $35,000, Tesla will continue to differentiate itself as a driving force behind the transition to sustainable energy… A bold mission!

Don’t let the current operating boundaries limit you. How can you think beyond the confines of today to envision the future you aspire towards? Your 5, 10, or even 25 year vision should get you thinking big, it should excite you, inspire those around you, and help you to define the steps necessary to achieve it.

Don’t Overcomplicate

The vision for SpaceX, Elon Musk’s company focused on advanced rockets and spacecraft, is literally rocket science and still Musk is able to synthesize and simplify his vision into short and concrete elements. The same is true for his other projects. His ability to articulate his vision and mission in a simple and compelling way has allowed him to attract significant investment and top talent to his companies.

In working with entrepreneurs and sharing various strategies and tactics we observe all too often the human tendency to overcomplicate things. Resist the temptation! Work to keep it simple.


How can you make a difference when you have limited resources? You need to start small and focus your efforts. Tesla’s roadster was their first entry into the electric market and a necessary step to garner the funds necessary to support the greater vision of a high volume, affordably priced vehicle. Tesla had to focus on the design, performance, and comfort of the earlier models to create demand in the marketplace at the high end. Without that demand, they would have been unable to fund the investments into the later models that exist today.

By focusing your efforts, you can measure the results and make the necessary change(s) to improve efforts going forward. And as Elon demonstrates, focus may not be on only one thing. Musk is focused on a variety of projects and focuses his time, energy and talent to manage those projects efficiently and effectively.

Share Your Ideas

Elon Musk has been very open in discussing his pursuits, long before they were even viable products and even when they are well beyond the current line of thinking. He is looking to be challenged by other forces in the system and influence them at the same time. His work on artificial intelligence inside OpenAI is proof of this.

Sharing your ideas is also bound to generate feedback from others. We need to share and embrace new ideas, experiment, solicit feedback, iterate, and see what works. You do not want your ideas to operate in a vacuum. Instead, be open to sharing them and soliciting feedback from others. There are so many ways to improve when we engage others in our ideas.

On the Shoulders of Giants

While we all may not have the genius nor the resourcefulness of Elon Musk, we are all standing on the shoulders of giants and can take what those working around us and before us have learned and work to apply it to our own work. We do not want to look simply to our own industry for inspiration, but all around.