Elon Musk Biographer Talks About How Elon Musk Handles Pressure

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Answers by Ashlee Vance, Bestselling author, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX & the Quest for a Fantastic Future, on Quora.

A: There really is no typical day for Elon.
My biggest takeaway from doing the book was that Elon starts out most days looking to address the "critical path" blocking any one of his companies from achieving their goals. Basically, he tries to find the major problem and then do what he can to help fix it. Sometimes this means Elon will personally try and solve the problem. Other times, it means he'll give a team more money and more people instantly to try and finish a project quickly.
I'm in awe of his ability to deal with these problems so effectively and to get so much out of his employees. That said, this approach also helps explain some of the herky-jerky nature you see at both SpaceX and Tesla. The company goes all in trying to get a new rocket or new car feature out, accomplishes its task and then heads onto to the next big thing. It makes things feel very spiky rather than smooth and points to why the companies are often late with products.

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A: Not sure there's a terribly satisfying answer here.
I don't actually know how he copes. It's plausible to me that someone could operate on his schedule for a year or two or perhaps three to four. To do this for decades is nuts.
It takes a pretty clear toll on him and his personal life. Week to week, his moods will change a lot, and he tends to get feistier when he's been without much sleep for a few days. He would sometimes show up for one of our interviews, and it was obvious from the look on his face that he was exhausted. He looked like someone who had run a marathon. Still, he would stay there and answer my questions for hours and push on close to midnight. He never seems to lose his ability to think lucidly.
There's something admirable about it: the man is driven beyond belief. I'm just not sure most people would want to live their lives the same way.

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A: This might be his top skill.
If you go back to 2008, the worldwide economy was imploding. Real car companies were going bankrupt. Tesla - a struggling maker of all-electric sports cars - was going bankrupt. SpaceX's rockets were blowing up. And Elon was getting a divorce.
(The gorier details are that Tesla's manufacturing systems were totally screwed. The company had to bring all of this overseas work back to California to make the cars affordable to build and sell. One of Elon's main investors was trying to throw him out of the company. His wife was blogging about their divorce. And SpaceX was trying to come to life on Kwajalein- an island in the middle of nowhere - with a ragtag bunch of engineers.)
The dude somehow got through all of this and then thrived.
Elon appears to be able to make hyper rational decisions in the face of incredible stress. It's a very difficult thing to do.

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