This is the second in a series of “Not’ interviews with famous innovators. These interviews are many things. Unique, memorable, and designed to be packed with insights. To be a “Not “personality, the speaker must be exceptionally well versed about their innovator. To prepare, the speaker must listen to interviews, study their impact on innovation, and/or read extensively about the person they are emulating so they not only know them but so that they can BE them.
Our guest speaker today is Not Elon Musk. He’s coming up on being a legend in his time. This Vision Master has an extremely rare success rate – he’s never failed despite numerous ventures.
Enjoy the video and the transcript of the interview below.
Robert Steven Kramarz (Rob): Oh, Hey, not Elon Musk. Nice to see you again.
Speaker 2: Nice to see you, Rob.
Rob: Welcome back to the Vision Master podcast. This is Robert Steven Kramarz, you may remember Rob for short. Hosted by and Intelliversity of which I’m the co-founder. Really great to see you again, because last time we spoke, we talked a lot about what makes you a Vision Master, maybe the master of vision masters, as opposed to being an Execution Master, and how things are going at Tesla and SpaceX and your new team member, Robyn Denholm.
And so what we’re going to cover today is specifically how you do it. How you actually have made six or seven companies successful. It can’t be coincidence.
Speaker 2: Not at all.
Rob: No, and it’s not just about how smart you are, because there are a lot of smart people who have not had that kind of success, right?
Speaker 2: Right.
Rob: So, therefore, I’m looking for what is it about the way you manage, your management style that really makes the difference in your success as a vision master. And then if other people could emulate that, then they could closer to being a vision master. So, what do you think it really is, not Elon?
Speaker 2: Not Elon – that’s me. Well, speaking as not Elon, of course, and if you think about it, we’re in the impossible business. Going to Mars is impossible. Building an electric car company that blows away all domestic competition is impossible. So we’re in the impossible business. Everything we do is freaking impossible. So you can’t do the impossible with average possible or acceptable management styles. So you have to set impossible goals. I think the media loves to call it the mission impossible management style, but I don’t see any other way to do it. I mean that’s a good name,
Rob: Well, it’s not unique to you, Steve Jobs and some others, particularly him are famous for using that very similar style.
Speaker 2: … Absolutely.
Rob: Right. But yet, you’re not the same as Steve Jobs at all. What makes you different, do you think?
Speaker 2: Well, Steve’s an awesome guy. He did a lot of really cool stuff, but I don’t think Steve ever wanted to change the world beyond the world. And our goal isn’t just changing the world, it’s changing the inner part of the solar system. So, I think we’re thinking bigger, we’re making much more big, impactful decisions. And I think that that’s both motivating and also terrifying for certain people in the organization.
Rob: So direct impact is key to your style, in other words. Guys like Bill Gates had a purpose, which was to have a PC in every home and every office. Steve Jobs wanted to master product design as incredibly better than any other product, and in that way make a difference. Bezos and so on want to build the biggest store, but it’s not a direct impact, it’s indirect impact. Certainly, they have some kind of impact positively, but you’re going directly after the direct impact, survival of the human race.
Speaker 2: Yes, survival of the human race.
Speaker 2: Yup. We have to have options.
Rob: So that’s part of you and it’s part of your management style. So how does that show up directly when you work with people, using this mission impossible management style?
Speaker 2: Well, I think probably the best example might be if I say I want to do X and the team around me goes, “Man, I don’t think you can do that,” you start to get into that inherent human resistance and negativity. The only way to break through it is by saying “Well, we are going to do that. And I’m giving you the job of coming up with a plan to in fact do that. And I’m only going to give you 14 days.” So, people tend to go away, come back, and figure out the problem.
Rob: Okay. And if they don’t, what happens? You’ve definitely set goals that have not been achieved yet, or at least, you’re falling behind your own goals. You haven’t achieved 500,000 cars a year. You haven’t done certain things in SpaceX on schedule, but you’re way ahead of what the world expected in all these areas. Right?
Speaker 2: Well, I think that’s the secret. If you set an impossible goal, you might get there, but even a failure of achieving that goal is a freaking success by any other measure. The secret, I think, from a management perspective is to never let your team know that you’re going to accept the 68.5% average improvement, that would be cutting off the head of the company and it doesn’t make any sense to me. So I would always expect more.
Rob: So inconsistency is part of your style? Unpredictability?
Speaker 2: … Absolutely. I can’t be everywhere, but if people know I’m very capable of looking in one little corner of a strategy, then they pay attention to the whole design.
Rob: So that’s why some people call you a nano manager, because like Jobs, you can get involved in the color of the paint in someone’s office or in the hallway, which would seem ridiculous. Why do you do that?
Speaker 2: Specifically for what I just said, I want people to know that I’m paying attention to the little things. I can’t pay attention to a million little things, but I can pay attention to a thousand little things and they never know which thousand I’m going to look at. And of course, if I tell you too much in this interview, then everybody will figure it all out. But, I care about little things, it’s the sum of all the little things that make up the difference that you’re trying to achieve.
Rob: So what you’re trying to do by being a nano manager is not manage everything, but to set ridiculously high standards, right?
Speaker 2: They have to know that I’m looking. So it’s not just setting impossible standards or ridiculously high standards, but it’s actually looking into the things that make those standards happen.
Rob: Okay. You frequently talked about a 10X improvement in every area. How does that relate to your management style?
Speaker 2: Well, that’s impossible, right? It really isn’t that complicated. If you sit there and you think about it, 10X is impossible. So we started out with the presumption that we’re going to do the impossible, so we need an impossible management style. And by implying that kind of leverage everywhere across what we’re trying to get done, that’s how shit gets done.
Rob: Okay. Does this impossible management style tend to infect the entire organization?
Speaker 2: I certainly hope so. If you had to think about it, if I go to Ryan or Brian or Joe, and I say, I need this impossible mission done and they agree to do it, there’s no way they can get it done without enforcing or implementing that same kind of design on their entire reporting structure.
Rob: So it becomes really part of the culture to do this?
Speaker 2: It IS the culture.
Rob: And yet, as we said, just because somebody misses a goal doesn’t mean you necessarily let them go, but they never know.
Speaker 2: Right and it’s how good of a failure they are. If, for instance, I give you a goal and you say you’re going to achieve it and don’t really try and you don’t give it everything you’ve got, you might be gone, but yet somebody who doesn’t meet the strategy, but learns a lot of stuff along the way, creating intrinsic value for themselves and the company, I can’t afford to let that guy go.
Rob: : Well, most important, as you’ve explained before, if they didn’t learn from their failure, that’s an old saw, or learn a lot from the failure to meet that goal, then there’s a problem, right?
Speaker 2: There is a joke right about, I can’t afford to let you go, I’ve invested too much in your failures. That’s what you’re saying.
Rob: Well, that’s what you’re saying. Right? So, there’s another aspect of you, which people talk a lot about, which is your sense of humor at work and actually in life generally, and it’s a little self-deprecating, just generally silly stuff. And yet that doesn’t make you any less of a serious owner of a company.
Speaker 2: Well, you got to have serious fun. If you think about it, if you just sat there and were nothing but just this lump of intensity about a particular goal, you really can’t get people to rally around that kind of stuff. It feels very, it’s too intense. It’s too negative. Let’s have a little fun. Let’s put my Tesla in and instead of a dummy payload and send it to Mars. Why not? In the scheme of things? So have a little fun. I encourage everybody to have a little bit of fun. We have a very playful atmosphere in all of the companies.
Rob: Well, one of the things that you do a lot is you try to be cool in the world, like Cybertruck and so on, there’s a lot about you that’s really cool. And yet, what seems to contradict what we see about you is being someone who doesn’t care what other people think. So how do you reconcile the fact that you like to be cool and yet, when it comes to making decisions, you don’t give a shit what other people think?
Speaker 2: Well, I like to do what I think is cool. If you do stuff that you think other people think is cool, that’s not cool. So by the very definition, if you’re doing stuff that you think is cool and you don’t care what other people think is cool, then you’re going to end up doing awesome, cool shit. I don’t know any other way to say it. The Cybertruck, I did because it’s an awesome idea. It’s cool. I love it. I didn’t do it to make anybody happy, other than me.
Rob: I see the difference. So when this comes to management, by setting impossible goals, you’re really defying consensus, right? You’re defining what the group, what the community, what the society, what your team thinks is possible?
Speaker 2: Well, you touched on one of my hot buttons. Every cool thing that’s ever happened with humans anywhere, the group said it was impossible. The group said we couldn’t travel that far. We couldn’t go to Europe from Africa. We couldn’t do this, we couldn’t do that. We couldn’t go to the moon. We couldn’t fly. We couldn’t count numbers that were as far out as we can count numbers, we couldn’t take pie to all the places – Everything we have in technology today, the group said it wasn’t possible.
It’s more than see what happens. I want those goals. They’re pretty intentional, unless I’m just screwing with somebody.
Rob: How often do you do that?
Speaker 2: Enough to keep everybody on their toes.
Rob: So a lot of what you do, as you said, is unconventional and yet you also, quite obviously, had some plastic surgery. Now, why would somebody who doesn’t care what other people think, don’t care about groups, doesn’t care about group think or consensus, alter your appearance? What was the point of that?
Speaker 2: I did it for me. I didn’t do a survey to see what surgery I should get to make myself look better in the eyes of humanity. I decided I didn’t like what I didn’t like, and I got it fixed. When you look in the mirror and you see something you don’t like, and it bothers you and it’s bothering me, it’s not like I’m going, “People are making fun of that.” It’s very much, it bothered me, so I fixed it.
Rob: All right. Well, I did something similar when I was much younger and I’ve never regretted it, just for my own benefit. I’m sure people still wonder, “Why did he do that?” But I don’t regret my own decisions.
Speaker 2: That’s the way it ought to be.
Rob: Right. And you’ve made mistakes, but do you ever sit around and regret them?
Speaker 2: Never. That’s just self-indulgent bullshit. You’re going to make mistakes. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not doing it right. You can learn and move on. There’s no time to sit there and wallow in your regrets.
Rob: In fact, many have observed that you run Tesla and SpaceX, like a Silicon Valley software firm where mistakes are counted on. It’s an iterative process, right?
Speaker 2: Yup.
Rob: And Starships that blow up and cars don’t work at first you just keep iterating, iterating, as fast as you possibly can. Right?
Speaker 2: It’s that short cycle that makes the difference between failure and success.
Rob: Got it. All right. I think we’re running near to the end of our time period here.
Speaker 2: Cool.
Rob: I hope so. No, I’m just kidding. The next time, we’re going to talk more about the women in not Elon Musk’s life, since there seems to be a family resemblance between many of the women that help you run these companies and your former wives, but I’m not going to get into what that family resemblance is or even try to analyze it this time, but next time, we’ll talk about the women in not Elon Musk’s life and what that says about you and what other people can learn from it. So, all right. Awesome.
Speaker 2: All right. I’m certainly not looking forward to that.
Rob: : That will be soon so get ready. This is a Robert Steven Kramarz with Not Elon Musk on the Vision Master podcast, from Intelliversity, because that is the way it will be.
Speaker 2: Cool. And off comes the mask. That was fun.