Elon Musk is the 46-year-old entrepreneur and CEO of SpaceX, a company with the goal to colonise Mars by using re-usable rockets and Tesla, home of the electric car, as well as the Boring Company, developing tunnel-boring infrastructure technology and Neuralink launched to look into ways to link human brains to computers as a way to fix medical problems and eventually supercharge human cognition. He is has become legendary for coming up with huge, seemingly impossible ideas.
Recently, the 2018 TED conference was held in Vancouver, TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design — three broad subject areas that are collectively shaping our world, but a TED conference is broader still, showcasing important ideas from any discipline, and exploring how they all connect.
The Chief Operating Officer (COO) and President of SpaceX, Gwynne Shotwell, gave an on-stage interview in which she discussed what it’s like to work with Musk. Having arrived at the time of the company’s foundation in 2002 she is the person tasked with turning the entrepreneur’s wild visions into reality.
She said “I love working for Elon. I’ve been doing it for 16 years this year. He’s funny, and fundamentally without him saying anything, he drives you to do your best work.”
In addition to his huge ideas, Musk is also known for wanting to turn those ideas into reality on tight timelines. Shotwell has learned to roll with it.
“When Elon says something, you have to pause and not blurt out ‘Well, that’s impossible,'” she said. “You zip it, you think about it, and you find ways to get it done. I’ve always felt like my job was to take these ideas and turn them into company goals, to make them achievable.”
Shotwell said she noticed at a certain point that every time she thought she’d reached the point where the company had caught up to Musk’s goals, to make his ideas feel achievable, he’d throw something new out that would keep SpaceX on its toes.
“Once I realised that was his job…and my job was to get us feeling comfortable, I liked my job a lot more,” she said.
It’s not like Shotwell doesn’t have wild visions of her own. SpaceX’s plans for Mars are just the first step in what she imagines will be a much bigger journey.
“Mars is fine, but it’s a fixer-upper planet, I want to find people, or whatever they call themselves, in another solar system,” she said.
Musk reportedly announced recently to employees at Tesla that he wants to adopt a 24/7 shift schedule to get production for Tesla’s Model 3 electric car on track. In an email to employees, Musk explained a number of changes in the works for Tesla.
With such demands, Musk offered employees a list of his own productivity recommendations, showing he is not a fan of bureaucracy, or hierarchy and meetings. He prefers people to apply common sense to the task at hand and also told employees, if they had any ideas for making work at Tesla better and more efficient then they should let him know.
Here are the seven productivity tips Musk reportedly offered in the email, in his own words.
Large-format meetings waste people’s time.
“Excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time. Please get [rid] of all large meetings, unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience, in which case keep them very short.”
Meetings should be infrequent unless a matter is urgent.
“Also get rid of frequent meetings, unless you are dealing with an extremely urgent matter. Meeting frequency should drop rapidly once the urgent matter is resolved.”
If you don’t need to be in a meeting, leave.
“Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.”
Avoid confusing jargon.
“Don’t use acronyms or nonsense words for objects, software, or processes at Tesla. In general, anything that requires an explanation inhibits communication. We don’t want people to have to memorize a glossary just to function at Tesla.”
Don’t let hierarchical structures make things less efficient.
“Communication should travel via the shortest path necessary to get the job done, not through the ‘chain of command’. Any manager who attempts to enforce chain of command communication will soon find themselves working elsewhere.”
If you need to get in touch with someone, do so directly.
“A major source of issues is poor communication between depts. The way to solve this is allow free flow of information between all levels. If, in order to get something done between depts, an individual contributor has to talk to their manager, who talks to a director, who talks to a VP, who talks to another VP, who talks to a director, who talks to a manager, who talks to someone doing the actual work, then super dumb things will happen. It must be ok for people to talk directly and just make the right thing happen.”
Don’t waste time following silly rules.
“In general, always pick common sense as your guide. If following a ‘company rule’ is obviously ridiculous in a particular situation, such that it would make for a great Dilbert cartoon, then the rule should change.”