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For Elon Musk, Failure is critical to success
Posted on January 28, 2020 by Matt Pressman
Epic fail. That's what first crossed my mind as I watched the window break (twice!) during Tesla's Cybertruck launch. Instead, the unfortunate incident brought immediate worldwide attention to Tesla's new truck — mainstream press, social media, and (of course) meme makers all gobbled it up. Fast forward, and Elon Musk's crazy concept for the Cybertruck is now considered genius.
Above: Elon Musk pokes some fun at his own gaffe during the Tesla Cybertruck unveiling (Image: Tesla)
In fact, Elon Musk actually forecasts failure at the beginning of his bold and audacious ventures. According to Marcel Schwantes (via Inc.), Musk demonstrates "a healthy amount of humility" when starting a project. For example, at an interview at an energy conference in Norway, Musk said, "You should take the approach that you're wrong. Your goal is to be less wrong."
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." But, if you take your medicine and learn from your failures, there's an upside. "Eventually, if you succeed... You will finally get back to happiness," says Musk.
Above: Accepting the likelihood of failure is an intrinsic part of risk-taking according to Musk (YouTube: Elon Musk Sound Bites)
By acknowledging that failure is a likely outcome, Schwantes says, "you'll be able to spot impending issues earlier and minimize the inevitable pain and suffering Musk describes." In fact, Musk has a trick for keeping him abreast of potential pitfalls. He actively seeks out constructive criticism from close friends and confidants.
"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," says Musk. Even if you don't agree with their feedback, Musk says, "You at least want to listen very carefully to what they say."
In short, Musk believes failure is necessary on the path of success. He says, "Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough." It's something Elon Musk accepts and embraces. Don't believe me? Check out this revealing infographic of Musk's many failures as he built Paypal, Tesla, and SpaceX into the trailblazing companies they are today.