Elon Musk: Risk-taking and imagination are keys to success at Tesla and SpaceX

Much has been written about Elon Musk's use of the scientific method and first principles thinking. Oftentimes, Musk is pigeon-holed as a hyper-logical, robotic decision maker. Not true. It's a misperception that doesn't align with Musk's real-world experience at his companies, SpaceX and Tesla. In contrast, Elon Musk displays a boldly wild imagination and high tolerance for risk.


Above: Risk? Imagination? Indeed — Elon Musk plans to launch his own Tesla into Mars orbit on SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket (Infographic: Times of India); Editor's Note: Roadster stats are given for 2020 Roadster, not Musk's original Roadster

Why can't Boeing and Lockheed Martin catch up with Musk's SpaceX? Inc.'s Bill Murphy writes, "The most powerful threat to greatness isn't evil. It's mediocrity." He reveals a quote from Elon Musk: "There's a tremendous bias against taking risks. Everyone is trying to optimize their ass-covering." Murphy points out a critical lesson for these old-guard aerospace giants scrambling to compete with SpaceX: "Don't optimize your ass-covering. Instead, optimize your opportunities."


Above: SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk (Instagram: elon.musk.world)

One could define risk tolerance as, "the degree of variability in outcomes that a founder is willing to withstand." Consider a few more Elon Musk quotes. On failing: "Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough." On odds: "When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor." On going all-in: "It's OK to have your eggs in one basket as long as you control what happens to that basket."


Above: NBA icon Kobe Bryant recounts a few lessons distilled from his recent conversation with Elon Musk (Youtube: CNBC)

Along with risk-taking, Elon Musk emphasizes the importance of imagination. When CNBC asked NBA legend Kobe Bryant about his conversation with Musk, Bryant says: "I buy into Elon... The amount of research, the amount of study he does is unheard of. But he’ll always say the most important thing is imagination. You can learn anything that you want to learn. You can study all these things that you have in a book, but if you don’t have the imagination and then take it to another level, it doesn’t mean anything.”


Above: Elon Musk imagines a new charging experience for Tesla Owners (via Twitter): "Gonna put an old school drive-in, roller skates & rock restaurant at one of the new Tesla Supercharger locations in LA" (Image: Autoblog via Tesla Owners Italia)

Analyzing Tesla, Huffington Post contributor Anurag Harsh writes that Elon Musk is: "exploring new ways of thinking about how we harness energy and affect the world around us. Aside from his brilliant [leadership in] technology, that is what Elon Musk brings to the table that other tech titans fail to do... he is dominating market share through the power of imagination, much like Steve Jobs did."