In the book: ROCKET MAN: Elon Musk In His Own Words (Agate B2, February 14, 2017, 978-1-57284-214-4), edited by Jessica Easto, collects more than 200 of entrepreneur Elon Musk’s most insightful (and occasionally eccentric) quotes, covering topics ranging from leadership, business, and education to innovation, artificial intelligence, and space.
Musk has been called the “real life Tony Stark” for his ability to capture the public’s imagination with almost inconceivable feats of engineering and technological advancement. The South African–born entrepreneur who made his first fortune with internet companies such as PayPal has risen to global prominence as the visionary CEO of both Tesla Motors and SpaceX, two companies with self-proclaimed missions to improve life as we know it and better secure the future of humanity.
No matter the topic, Musk always brings a unique eye to the subject at hand, making his quotes both entertaining and insightful. In the words of Richard Branson,
“Whatever skeptics have said can’t be done, Elon has gone out and made real.” Although he may be inimitable, there is no better way to learn from Rocket Man Elon Musk than through his own words.
Here are some of his statements:
“I do think it’s worth thinking about whether what you’re doing is going to result in disruptive change or not. If it’s just incremental, it’s unlikely to be something major. It’s got to be something that’s substantially better than what’s gone on before.”—SXSW Conference, March 9, 2013
“I don’t think everything needs to change the world, you know. . . . Just say: ‘Is what I’m doing as useful as it could be?’” —STVP Future Fest, October 7, 2015
“Fundamentally, if you don’t have a compelling product at a compelling price, you don’t have a great company.” —Inc. 5000 Conference, 2008
“If you go back a few hundred years, what we take for granted today would seem like magic—being able to talk to people over long distances, to transmit images, flying, accessing vast amounts of data like an oracle. . . . So engineering is, for all intents and purposes, magic, and who wouldn’t want to be a magician?” —Forbes, March 26, 2012
“Certainly, in the beginning, when I told people I was trying to create a rocket company, they thought I was crazy. That seemed like a very improbable thing. And I agreed with them—I think it was improbable. But sometimes the improbable happens.” —Living Legends of Aviation awards dinner, January 22, 2010
“What a lot of people don’t appreciate is that technology does not automatically improve. It only improves if a lot of really strong engineering talent is applied to the problem. . . . There are many examples in history where civilizations have reached a certain technology level and then have fallen well below that and then recovered only millennia later.” —International Astronautical Congress, September 27, 2016
“We don’t think too much about what competitors are doing because I think it’s important to be focused on making the best possible products. It’s maybe analogous to what they say about if you’re in a race: don’t worry about what the other runners are doing—just run.” —StartmeupHK Venture Forum, January 26, 2016
“We’re already a cyborg. You have a digital version of yourself or partial version of yourself online in the form of your e-mails and your social media and all the things that you do. And you have, basically, superpowers with your computer and your phone and the applications that are there. You have more power than the president of the United States had 20 years ago. You can answer any question; you can videoconference with anyone anywhere; you can send a message to millions of people instantly. You just do incredible things.” —Code Conference, June 1, 2016
“Our goal when we created Tesla a decade ago was the same as it is today: to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport by bringing compelling mass market electric cars to market as soon as possible. If we could have done that with our first product, we would have, but that was simply impossible to achieve for a startup company that had never built a car and that had one technology iteration and no economies of scale. Our first product was going to be expensive no matter what it looked like, so we decided to build a sports car, as that seemed like it had the best chance of being competitive with its gasoline alternatives.” —“The Mission of Tesla,” November 18, 2013
“The goal of SpaceX is to revolutionize space travel. The long-term goal is to establish Mars as a self-sustaining civilization as well as to just kind of have a more exciting future.” —hitRECord on TV, February 1, 2014
“I’m not saying we’ll do it [become multiplanetary], to be sure. The odds are we won’t succeed. But if something is important enough, then you should do it anyway.” —Smithsonian magazine, December 2012
“In terms of our competitiveness, it mostly comes down to our pace of innovation. Our pace of innovation is much, much faster than the big aerospace companies or the country-driven systems. This is generally true. If you look at innovation from large companies and from smaller companies, smaller companies are generally better at innovating than larger companies. It has to be that way from a Darwinian standpoint because smaller companies would just die if they didn’t try innovating.” —MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics Centennial Symposium, October 24, 2014
“I’m a big believer in: don’t ask investors to invest their money if you’re not prepared to invest your money. I really believe in the opposite philosophy of other people’s money. It just doesn’t seem right to me that if you ask other people to invest that you shouldn’t also invest. . . . I’d rather lose my money than any of my friends’ money or investors’ money.” —2016 Tesla Annual Shareholders Meeting, May 31, 2016
Reprinted with permission from Rocket Man edited by Jessica Easto, Agate B2, 2017.