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Elon Musk entrepreneurship lecture. (stanford.edu)
176 points by Nevaeh on May 28, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 38 comments



In 150 words (the transcript):

"I think successful entrepreneurs probably come in all sizes, shapes and flavors. I'm not sure there's any one particular thing. For me, some of the things I've described already I think are very important. I think really an obsessive nature with respect to the quality of the product is very important and so being an obsessive compulsive is a good thing in this context. Really liking what you do, whatever area that you get into, even if you're the best of the best, there's always a chance of failure so I think it's important that you really like whatever you're doing. If you don't like it, life is too short. I'd say also, if you like what you're doing, you think about it even when you're not working. It's something that your mind is drawn to and if you don't like it, you just really can't make it work I think."


I was expecting a laundry list of absolutes. The deference voiced by all his "I think"s shows remarkable humility from this guy.


Not criticism of Musk, just a general observation: "I think" humility is super cheap, it takes 0.3 seconds or 8 keypresses to add it like table salt. Stating concrete exceptions to your generalizations is a much stronger indicator of non-absoluteness. I've often or even mostly seen "I think" as a defense against objections; "Oh, that's just what I think." Meanwhile the real message is the same.


I don't agree. The use of I think could be a cheap defense. These are typically followed by "well that's my opinion so nyah".

But I think could also reflect an epistomological stance that only a few things can really be known. As wamatt mentioned, not everyone has the time to build a fortress of logic around everything they say. So the more efficient approach is to state their belief and then offer Just In Time defenses of why they hold these beliefs if the need to justify them is important.

I think this constructive approach is better, in terms of effort and strength, than stating an argument and listing a non exhaustive list of possible exceptions - which is really a dual and more energetic form of the use of I think to ward off objection. Rather than hiding behind a lack of substance, you hide behind too much substance (that may even serve to confuse your main point).


Could not disagree more.

The inclusion of "I think" (a) makes it clear that this is one person's view(which itself may change) and not some world order (b) gives the audience permission at some level to form their own view.


I ask this as a genuine question- Do you need to hear this from people when they speak? Why?

I confess it's always seemed redundant to me. Of course what I say is just my viewpoint, and what you say is your viewpoint. And of course you have permission to form your own viewpoint.

I guess I'm really asking, do people feel they need to have permission to form their own view? I can't recall ever feeling that I didn't have that freedom, no matter how definitive the person's view sounded. I literally never even consider that possibility.


Need? No. This isn't about the receivers in this situation. Other people aren't waiting for your permissions, and they don't need to be told that your opinion is your opinion. This is about the way the sender communicates their own internal understanding of their belief/knowledge states.

If other people never hear someone linguistically marking their belief states with reliability indicators (even when their statements clearly need them by common phrasing norms), then the listeners will have much less reason to believe the speaker uses any reliability metrics internally, and that is just sloppy thinking. This is, I believe, the reasoning behind listeners believing that speakers who never use something like "I think" are "know it all's" who take their own opinions as gospel. If you want people to know your internal knowledge representations carry proper markers of fallibility, communicate that part of the representations in your words. That is the common norm, and other people aren't mind readers to know you mean different.

Also, listeners can make good use of reliability markers from speakers, and so would like them. Such markers can communicate helpful information (close or distant source, checked validity or not, fits well with other knowns or not, reasoning from one person or checked over by many), so why leave them out? Inclusion costs so little, and omission risks unnecessary confusion.

This is basic communication practice; if you don't mean to communicate to others that you consider yourself very certain on some matter, then you shouldn't send the type of messages to others that you know they will interpret as you saying you are very certain on some matter.


> Of course what I say is just my viewpoint, and what you say is your viewpoint.

Yes, but many people do not recognize this part. After they speak their mind they will carry on as if those statements are an absolute fact.

When they recognize that they are voicing an opinion it signals to me, whether I agree or disagree, that they a likely to be the sort of person with whom constructive debate might be possible.


This is such a frustrating issue I find, particularly in the valley. I suspect one can detect that emotion in what follows..

Absolutes have utility, it takes far more cognitive processing for my brain to say. "By and large, blah blah, for example, then list 3 counter examples" just for your benefit so that you can see, "oh ok this guy is not a dumb manager type" or whatever categorization goes on behind polite judgements in your subconsious.

So if you think I should learn to use absolutes less, your type of thinking should learn to understand the concept of opportunity cost, and just how prevalent it is.

Even thinking a thought, is an opportunity cost. Reading this sentence is an opportunity cost. The reason Musk got to where he was, is precisely because he didn't write 500 page essays that explained his position comprehensively.

That is the tradeoff one faces as an entrepreneur. People often spot the pattern of my "black and white" thinking and assume that I actually am specifically attached to that attitude. False. That is more common with an STJ type.

Another common issue is that NTP's tend to be more impartial. But the presence of ego words like "me, I," etc does not actually mean I'm invested in the outcome of the statements. Simply it's derived from a natural cognitive style, that tends to see things from my own perspective.

Being able to see multiple perspectives, does NOT equate to objectivity. That is probably the biggest fallacy of all the NTP's.

People seem to love the concept of the wisdom of crowds. Well what about the stupidity of crowds? (eg religion)


I'm amused at the common stereotype that programmers see the world in binary, logical terms. Trust me, no one knows better than a programmer that the world doesn't fit into simple logic.


See: E-Prime


Very interesting. Thanks!

"E-Prime [...] is a version of the English language that excludes all forms of the verb to be. [...] Some scholars advocate using E-Prime as a device to clarify thinking and strengthen writing."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-Prime


"I think X, but I could be wrong." != "X is true except for when Y."


I have never liked "I think". It only serves to muddy the message, make it weak and difficult to find.

Say what you believe, like you believe it. We already know it's your opinion, you're the one saying it. Saying "I think" just makes you look weak and like you don't believe your own words.

It's mostly just annoying, not a sign of humility. A sign of humility is talking in absolutes and changing them when new data is available.


But how would you express nuances in certainty? There are things I know, and there are things I believe are probable. Are you saying I should not talk about the latter or leave out the information of certainty for you?


Agreed. However you can also see that Elon doesn't seem to be all too eloquent in his speech or comfortable (at the time anyway), which may account for it. In addition, you can tell that he hasn't necessarily planned out what he's saying here. When he uses "I think" it sounds like it's a thought that he has just then constructed -- as in what he's saying is intuitively correct -- however he seems to realize himself that what he's saying may not be universally true.


Elon Musk is the next Steve Jobs. What Jobs did for computing, Musk is doing for Space exploration. In this video he displays many of the same signs of a "reality distortion field". He describes quite candidly what the general public thinks is crazy and unachievable (especially in 2002). In some ways I think his way of thinking is much more contrarian than Jobs. This year seems to be a tipping point for how we (the average person) see the future of space.

From all who care to dream, Thank you Elon Musk!


There's no "next Steve Jobs". I think Elon Musk is just Elon Musk, and that's fine.


I think he meant that in terms of changing how the world sees and uses something.

Jobs wanted computers to be accessible for families and the general public and he was quite successful (iPhone alone is a huge success). Elon is trying to do the same but in the field of clean energy (tesla motors, solar city) and space travel.

But on another note, Elon musk is a whole different level. Because he knows the design and engineering aspect of his field and knows how to market it while still have the genuine intention of pushing humanity forward.

I think Elon Musk is a great role model for kids and future generation. As the old Internet saying goes "I think Elon is a pretty cool guy. He does rocket science and doesn't afraid of anything."


Sure there is. Steve Jobs was just an exceptional entrepreneur and there'll be many who follow. If you look at the past we see tons of people who obsessed over their work. Some of them achieved great success while others did not.

If you're talking about Steve Jobs, the person and not the accomplishments, then I agree. But there's no "next Jaisen Mathai" either then.


It was a metaphor.


Unrelated to this particular lecture, but the Stanford Entrepreneurial Thought Leader Seminar is a really excellent source of interesting interviews. I always get excited when I see a new podcast sitting on my phone, waiting to be listened to.

The whole series is really high quality...definitely recommend.


Assuming that you have seen a decent amount of interviews, how does Elon Musk's lecture compare to them? I thought that Elon's advice was simple but powerful, when you consider the list of his accomplishments.

He gives the same sort of advice on other interviews like these: Getting things done: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOPgM7Sc2VQ Work hard: http://vator.tv/news/2010-12-23-elon-musk-work-twice-as-hard... Critical Thinking: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5nMQ0-1jqFs&feature=relat...


I honestly don't remember this particular interview. I listen to them as they come out each semester, so I probably listened to this interview some time last year.

There are only a handful of interviews from Stanford's ETS that I've skipped or stopped halfway, so I'd take a guess and say it was pretty good :)


It maybe worth noting this lecture is from 2003.

It took me a while to work out why it wasn't showing up in my Stanford eCorner iTunes subscription.


Interesting to watch him talk about SpaceX only days after their successful mission. In this clip (http://ecorner.stanford.edu/authorMaterialInfo.html?mid=382) he says based on historical data it is unlikely the mission will stay within the 15 billion dollar development cost and 2012 timeline. Not sure about the budget, but they made their deadline. Makes their recent success even more impressive.


Elon once said: "I always knew that there was a chance of failure in all my endeavors. But I felt that they were important enough that I had to try, even if I thought the probability of success was less than 50%."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YjuvIlskUf4#t=7m20s Just look at Elon's excitement at the 9:36 mark of this video as well as all of SpaceX employee's enthusiasm. This was truly a huge success despite the challenging odds.

It's an amusing contrast of how Elon was like "Yeah that's pretty cool I guess." when director Jon Favreau based Iron Man on him and donated an Iron Man statue to SpaceX headquarters signed by the whole cast. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CECAda_XCDU


Thanks for that first link! The first few minutes of the video after the cue are nearly as inspiring as the site of the launch and docking itself. THAT is one radiant group of human beings!


You're most welcome. It's such a refreshing sight as just 2 months ago, Elon was visibly quite disappointed in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJnW7vtqaf4&feature=relat...

I hope Apollo astronauts Neil Armstrong and Eugene Cernan will show their support for Elon now that the mission was a success, partly due to collaboration with NASA. This is also NASA's victory, really, since they can save millions in the future by contracting with an American company instead of relying on the Russians.


Yeah, wow. He looks like he's about to cry. It really shows how much he wants this to succeed. I'm really rooting for the guy now, even though I don't know much about him and the SpaceX project. It makes me even happier to know that there was success.

He must feel on top of the world turning around a successful mission in the face of being rejected by his heroes. I know I want to feel like that.


He was talking about a government run Shuttle replacement program, which has morphed into the Orion Multi-purpose crew vehicle: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orion_(spacecraft).

SpaceX so far has spent roughly a billion dollars developing the Falcon 1, Falcon 9, and the unmanned Dragon capsule. They will spend a bit more developing the manned Dragon (a few hundred million) and are continuing to develop other hardware such as revisions of the Falcon 9 launcher (Block 2, and an upgraded version 1.1 with considerably greater payload), the Falcon Heavy launcher (with over 50 tonnes of payload, based on the Falcon 9 1.1 core), and a fully reusable Falcon 9 launcher as well as Dragon capsule.


I'm trying to find a better source, but this Boston Herald article claims they've put in a little over $1 billion. http://bostonherald.com/news/national/general/view/20120522p...


Pretty sure that wasn't SpaceX he was talking about, but rather a spaceplane reminiscent of the X-37 (possibly actually it, from what I've heard in the past).


I'm enjoying the talk, but if you rely on the captioning, know that it is wrong in many places.


I think "lecture" is stretching it a bit. This video is 1 minute 12 seconds long.



There are 23 videos, some more geared towards entrepreneurship like "Qualities of an Entrepreneur", "When is the right time to sell", "History of Zip2", "Viral Marketing", etc.


You need to download the individual clips and load them sequentially into a media player to get the entire lecture.




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