1. Elon Musk
The overriding impression one gets from Walter Issacson’s biography of the richest human on earth is how relentlessly productive Elon Musk has been in public and private in his 52 years on the Earth he so passionately wants humans to be able to escape. He is currently running no fewer than six companies (Tesla, SpaceX, Starlink, The Boring Company, X (formerly Twitter), Neuralink, and X.AI). In his private life, Musk has fathered 11 children with three partners. Mere mortals would consider managing the domestic arrangements a full-time occupation.
The bulk of Isaacson’s book dwells on how Musk willed these organizations into being through sheer force of will and audacious overwork.
To Isaacson, Musk opened his life in all its intricacies without restriction. Musk made absolutely no effort to control the book or the conclusions his biographer reached. And Isaacson does not pull his punches. He depicts Musk in all his ruthless focus, appalling personal habits, casual cruelty, conspiratorial recklessness, and sanctimonious grudge-bearing. A nice guy Elon Musk is not. To engineers who share his outsize ambitions, Musk is an inspiring leader who is entitled to certain excesses because he makes excessive things happen. When it comes to engineering matters, Musk’s instincts are not just correct but often uncannily accurate.
The world according to Musk is bounded by a set of operating principles called “the algorithm.” For product design, that requires questioning every requirement to delete any part or process not essential. It means that all technical managers must have hands-on experience. Musk believes that camaraderie in the office is dangerous; it makes it hard for people to challenge each other’s work. It’s OK to be wrong, Musk says. Just don’t be confident and wrong.