Elon Musk shows innovation comes from outsiders with fresh viewpoints

Elon Musk’s career stands in contrast to what David Burkus calls the Expert Myth, one of many myths, or faulty beliefs, we have about creative people. The Expert Myth claims that innovation is typically the result of the most experienced or knowledgeable person in a field. In reality, breakthroughs are often made by people at the fringes of an activity, by those with a base of knowledge and the ability to bring fresh ideas to the table—people such as Elon Musk.

Musk isn’t the first of his kind, nor will he be the last. Consider Paul Erdos, one of the most famous mathematicians in history. Erdos published more papers than anyone else, at least 1,525 that we can verify. Erdos, too, was known for his tendency to constantly shift the focus of his research, sometimes arriving at the front door of a potential collaborator’s home and announcing, “My brain is open.” He and his collaborators would share knowledge from their respective specialties and provide each other with the benefits of an outsider’s perspective. This constant movement allowed Erdos to influence more areas within mathematics than any other academic.

Ten Myths of Creativity

Eureka Myth
Breed Myth
Originality Myth
Expert Myth
Incentive Myth
Lone Creator Myth
Brainstorming myth
Cohesive Myth
Constraints Myth
Mousetrap myth

The Hyperloop represents Musk’s attempt to disrupt a sixth industry. He began with news, dropping out of graduate school and founding Zip2 as a content-publishing platform for newspapers. With the money earned from selling Zip2, Musk turned to banking, co-founding the company that would grow into PayPal and be acquired by EBay (EBAY). After that sale, Musk made the transition to aerospace. He founded Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, which has dramatically pushed launch technology forward and even replaced the space shuttle as the system for supplying the International Space Station. While still working on SpaceX, Musk shook up the automobile field when he co-founded Tesla Motors (TSLA), where he still serves as head of product design. Musk was also the impetus for SolarCity (SCTY), one of the dominant providers of solar energy services in the United States. Musk remains chairman and largest shareholder at SolarCity, even as he heads Tesla and SpaceX.

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