Elon Musk on Getting the Impossible Done

Lex Friedman asked Elon Musk:

What is your source of belief in situations like this when the engineering problem is so difficult there’s a lot of experts many of whom you admire who have failed in the past yes and a lot of people (experts, journalists, the public) have a lot of doubt about whether it’s possible.

Where do you go to both personally intellectually as an engineer as a team like for source of strength needed to sort of persevere through this and to keep going with the project take it to completion.

Elon replied: I mean for me it’s simply this this is something that is important to get done and we should just keep doing it or die trying.

I don’t need a source of strength so quitting is not even in my nature okay.

I don’t care about optimism or pessimism.

F**k that we’re gonna get it done.

Impossible Things Achieved by Elon Musk and His Companies

Create a new successful commercial orbital rocket company. SpaceX failed three times to launch an orbital rocket and succeeded on the fourth try.
Create a partially reusable rocket.
Create a new successful car company. Most new car companies go bankrupt.
Create a successful electric car. Previously electric cars had all failed.

Create a successful network of commercial satellites. Most commercial satellite constellations companies have failed.
SpaceX restored the USA to manned space flight with the Dragon capsules. Boeing is still not flying Starliner.

Now working on full self-driving. Many consider this impossible.
Create the new 4680 battery. Many people have predicted that this would fail.
Create a super heavy lift fully reusable rocket. SLS and constellation programs have not flown super heavy lift rockets after about 20 years. SLS would be single use.
SpaceX is working towards colonizing Mars and landing on the moon.
Tesla is trying to develop Tesla bot and useful physical AGI.

Elon Musk interview:

Fictional Captain America talking about doing Whatever it Takes.

Fictional Character describing fictional John Wick as Pure Will.

27 thoughts on “Elon Musk on Getting the Impossible Done”

  1. I think Elon is good at finding the right people and putting them in charge.
    Most corporations are awful at this and fall into the “Peter Principle”.
    Can you imagine in Elon was an employee at a normal corporation? How ideas would have gone no-where.
    Mid managers or even upper management would have sat in everything he suggested or watered them down to nothing.
    NASA had a program with a rocket that launched and landed. They didn’t fund it, broke the team up…..

  2. He would have had to run as a Dem. He is too liberal on gays and abortion to have stood a chance in the GOP primaries.

  3. I always thought that Clarke was speaking in the context of science fiction.
    In science fiction, if the acknowledged old expert says something is impossible… you know this is the equivalent of Chekov loading a gun and hanging it on a wall in Act one of the play.

  4. Before about the beginning of the 20th century, the wasn't any engines with the power to weight required for heavier than air flight. Doesn't stop the Wright brothers from being a remarkable achievement of the first aeroplane.

    Before the 15th century, Europe didn't have any ships that could make useful Atlantic crossings. Doesn't stop Colombus from discovering the Americas.

    Before the late 1960s, there was no tech that could but men on the moon. Takes nothing away from the Apollo project.

    In each case there were other attempts, made by serious competitors. But they failed.

    Tesla didn't just wait until better batteries were available. They also radically changed how one attempted a BEV. Instead of the smallest, lowest powered little box on wheels they could design, they went for a big, extremely powerful, luxury and desirable car, that they could sell profitably. The high power meant they could run the batteries at a low C rating most of the time. The long, low shape gave good aero AND made it desirable to the sort of person who could afford it.

  5. Hyperloop is a white paper he released and said he didn’t have time to do it himself, but hoped others would. So, not a Elon failure

  6. My point was simply that the classic examples of elderly physicists stating something was impossible, that Clarke's law was based off of, they weren't actually giving a physics based evaluation of impossibility. They were critiquing engineering feasibility.

    A physicist tells you something would violate conservation of momentum, he's on his home turf. Doesn't mean he knows how to engineer rockets.

  7. Yes, Space is a target rich environment for tech no matter the motivation. Apollo was done before O'Neill asked the question. Amazing! At this very time, however, Musk is making a single lunar lander and new contract(s) are out for at least one more design with multiple landings, Musk if he wants, with focus on the gateway being the key element. See why this is important? Understanding O'Neill, micr0g if nothing else, really changes the path to take. Forget Mars, for anything but robot science.

  8. As long as he delivers truly reusable rockets that continue to exist beyond his own life, and make space access a couple of orders of magnitude cheaper, he's succeeding. Regardless if Mars settlement works or not.

    In the same way the inventors of airplanes succeeded, despite their own lives' final outcomes.

    He doesn't need to be an O'Neill fan for achieving that success. Just enabling human progress to march on. "On the shoulders of giants" and all that.

  9. No, it isn't exaggerated. EV before the Roadster was an empty market. Every decade or so one of the big auto manufacturers would trot out a concept car, but it never went anywhere. There were no production models, no R&D efforts, and the minuscule electric car enthusiast companies made cars which were slow, heavy, ugly and had terrible autonomy.

    Tesla has literally created the modern EV market segment. Musk himself has admitted that "eventually" electric cars would dominate, but whether it would take a year or a century is anybody's guess. Until then, nobody was even trying to solve that problem, waiting until we got past real peak oil to start doing something about it. And by then we might have an actually dangerous fraction of CO2 in our atmosphere.

  10. True. And he likely would do very badly indeed in politics, the very attributes that we admire in him would be deadly in the political arena, while the skills of being a CEO are not all that transferable to high office.

  11. Yes, nearly everything is context dependent. There are exceptions to nearly everything above the level of fundamental physics. The accuracy or meaning of just about any statement can be changed by changing the context.

  12. Witty, but very context dependent. If the elderly scientist cites the laws of thermodynamics, or conservation of energy, or some other very well established, basic physical principle, they stand an excellent chance of being right. If they're just commenting on engineering feasibility, OTOH, yeah, Clarke's law applies.

  13. "If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible, he is almost certainly right; but if he says that it is impossible, he is very probably wrong."

    Arthur C. Clarke

  14. Nobody achieves the impossible, of course. Tautologically so. Just things that other people thought were impossible. So I have to suppose the first step is realizing that people are probably wrong about something being impossible.

  15. Well, at one point they will die trying. I think that it will be with autonomy, here they have the longest list of unknowns.
    Nothing last forever. No trick lasts forever. Ask Putin if you don't believe me.

  16. Also… we must remember also Elon fails.
    Hyperloop has turned into a big failure. SolarCity was a soft failure, because it turned into a regular/low solar enterprise that it made loses and it needed to be rescued that Elon did through Tesla integration.

    What I want to say is that Elon is a remarkable man, but a man after all, with a lot of mistakes and limitations. Don't overestimate him. He can fail. He has failed in the past and he will fail in the future too. Just he want to have hope that the most important attempts will be successful in some way at least.

    Also, IMHO, It's more encouraging a man that makes failures and rise again to try another way or another thing than a blessed superhuman that always make the right thing, unlike every person in the world. Make failures is not something to be ashamed. It's just how is it. To find the right way, a lot of wrong ways needs to be tried.

  17. "Create a successful electric car. Previously electric cars had all failed."

    That's biased.

    It's time based. Elon has read the times good, or he has being lucky. The case is that the right batteries has being available just now. And not only Tesla has being successful. Also other companies and even in Asia. If you see the electric vehicle market, although Tesla has a good position, there is plenty of options with different manufacturers.

    Maybe the only special characteristic of Tesla is that being one of the leaders in pure EV, they create ONLY EV, which is even more difficult. But to say that everyone besides Elon has failed is exaggerated.

  18. Aldrin has failed. Hawking failed. Many, many others have too, as these comment sections show over the years. Can Musk succeed where so many fail? In understanding the point of "The High Frontier" by Gerard K. O'Neill? Pretty sure he will fail if he does not even read the book.

  19. US law only allows native born citizens to run for president. Otherwise Schwarzenegger would never have settled for just California.

  20. He couldn't run anyway. He was born in Pretoria, South Africa. Only a natural born citizen can be President.

  21. These new politicians are fiascos as always, because of the the wrong expectation that politicians can change the world.

    They indeed can, but not in the way we would like. Politicians are good at wrecking what worked, passably good at managing what there is, bad for adding more existing stuff, and really lousy for creating truly new things.

  22. “I don’t need a “source of strength” – quitting is not in my nature”. That seems just factual not bragging”. He’s an outlier with focus, persistence, conscientiousness turned up to 11. It’s the combination of that with being a genius that makes him a historical anomaly.

    About Mars, it’s worth noting the practical effect of his moving to a Mars settlement in 10 or 15 years. It would mean the richest person in existence isn’t the richest person “on earth”. Both the power of that and the fact working with him personally in a small settlement would be a huge draw to talented people would materially increase the odds of success of human civilization on Mars and throughout the Solar System.

  23. Musk should stick to what he is good at. We don't need more celebrity politicians. Although, our current politicians certainly have not covered themselves in glory or even basic human decency. So there is that.

  24. And there is people asking him to run for president.

    That would be a disastrous idea. He's much better where he is now.

    We have an over-supply of politicians and a severe lack of truly reusable rockets and an under-supply of SDCs and EVs.

    Let the guy change the world in the ways he is best at.

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