Elon Musk is a beast. What makes him more ‘successful’ than anyone else? One must first understand what makes him different than the rest of us to know why he is successful. For this post, I’m defining success and business success.
I actually don’t believe he possesses any ability that is so great by itself, he just has a lot of abilities that are usually not found in one person.
After interviewing many people, giving them tests, and then assessing their abilities has given me critical insights into what makes people successful – and what we look for in talent.
This study breaks down intelligence in three domains: verbal, reasoning and working memory, and I believe the authors are correct as far as intellectual abilities that predict performance in the modern workplace (R).
While genetics plays a large role, I think there is a significant role in changing your biology for enhancement.
It’s important to note that you don’t need all of these abilities, or in the same degree as Elon Musk to be successful. I’ve seen people be successful with only one of these. But it’s the combination of these that make Elon Musk so successful, which separates him from the rest of us.
1) Logical Reasoning
This one shocked me a bit. I’ve interviewed a lot of people and one thing I realized is that someone can have a high IQ and low logical reasoning ability.
This and verbal ability were the most predictive tests when determining who is effective in any role.
People who do poorly with logical reasoning task don’t know how to prioritize tasks well or come to correct conclusions. These people are not able to operate autonomously and need to be managed, or they do everything wrong.
These people are swept up in conventions and make illogical arguments. They don’t come to independent conclusions and just rely on conventions. They implement things in illogical ways.
I come across many people who can’t reason very well.
There is a big range in logical reasoning and we only accept people into management who do very well.
Ashkenazic Jews have a much higher logical reasoning ability on average, which is why there are so many Jewish lawyers and business people.
I’ve never heard anything illogical coming from Elon Musk’s mouth, and you can see he has amazing logical reasoning abilities.
When he talks about ‘first principals thinking,’ it’s really just about logical reasoning. When you have great logical reasoning skills, you’re going to automatically reason from first principals.
How to Improve Logical Reasoning:
- Do logic puzzles like LSAT questions
2) Verbal Intelligence
Verbal intelligence might be the most important skill that people need to succeed, and unfortunately, most of it is inherited. Some of it is trainable, unquestionably, but I can’t help to look back at my own development in guessing how much of it is genetic or biological.
I grew up in extreme circumstances and had no education growing up. I couldn’t understand a newspaper at 20, and that probably has something to do with the fact that I had never read a book, in school or for pleasure. English was the only language I knew how to read somewhat well in. This demonstrates how lacking my verbal abilities were. But I started forcing myself to read and within a few years I took the SAT twice, and both times I scored a perfect 800 on the verbal.
I checked all the boxes of someone who shouldn’t have good verbal ability: raised by a single mom without a college education, was poor, didn’t get an education, and didn’t have many books in the house (especially no science books). My mother never discussed anything intellectual.
My verbal abilities are significantly better now than they were back then (at 23), but it’s odd because I should’ve had the worst verbal abilities possible.
Same with writing. I had never written anything until age 20. I didn’t know basic grammar or sentence structure. However, I started writing when I got to college because writing was in a lot of assignments. In a few years, I learned how to write well, even while I was suffering from brain fog.
Once the brain fog lifted, I started combing through dense scientific texts and writing like a beast. I’m still the fastest technical writer I know.
On the other hand, I know people who were educated from a young age in how to read and write, and some of them are pretty bad.
Now it is true that most people with good verbal ability will have grown up in a family that encouraged it, but that’s because almost always one of the parents has good verbal ability (which they inherited).
The only advantage I had was a smart father (who I didn’t grow up with) and some good recessive genes (my mom’s mother was very intelligent).
I probably would have been better verbally had I grown up in a richer environment (certainly a faster reader), but I can’t help but think it’s mostly genetic because I see very large variations of verbal ability within the same family often (including mine).
Every applicant that we get is tested on their verbal abilities and we don’t pursue candidates who score below a certain level. People who score lower on verbal ability aren’t good writers and they often get the studies wrong that they cite.
If someone can’t read and digest information efficiently, then they can’t learn very well.
Ashkenazic Jews have an average verbal IQ of 122, compared to 100 for the rest of the population (they have lower visio-spatial skills), which I think is a critical factor in their business success.
I can say that Elon Musk must have very good verbal abilities. What I find interesting is that there is little correlation to how ‘fluid’ someone sounds to how good they are verbally. Musk stutters and stammers, but I bet he’s a beast in his reading abilities.
How to improve Reading Comprehension:
- Read a lot and read tough material
3-4) Working Memory and Task Switching/Filtering
Working memory is the ability to juggle multiple things in your head at once.
Task switching is the ability to move from one task to another with little switching costs. Many everyday activities require you to switch tasks effectively and not make mistakes.
Working memory and task switching are actually not very correlated in the tests I’ve given people, so that’s why they are two different abilities.
These two abilities are required to juggle many things at once and not screw up – basically the job that managers have. Task switching is the same cognitive skill that is required for filtering, I believe.
When we open our eyes, a huge amount of information lands there, but only a small part of it is relevant. We don’t have the ability to process everything, so the brain focuses on the most important things and ignores the less important. Our brains are limited by traffic bottlenecks, akin to narrowing or merging freeways. Such bottlenecks can occur when one brain region is trying to communicate with another. So the brain needs to figure out what’s important and drop the rest from traffic flow to avoid a jam. That’s why it’s so hard to multitask.
What’s interesting is that when I eat a food that gives me brain fog, my working memory plummets.
We test these abilities because we find that they are very good predictors of managerial ability. If a manager can’t juggle many things in their head or makes mistakes when they are exposed to many tasks, they won’t make an effective manager. This isn’t needed if someone has a repetitive task that they need to do and the job isn’t dynamic.
People with low working memory and task switching ability get very stressed whenever too many things are on their plate because their brain can’t handle it.
When I consume a lot of THC or eat something I get inflammation from, my working memory declines and I notice I can’t manage effectively.
Elon Musk must have an amazing working memory and task switching ability to manage everything that he does.
How to improve working memory:
5) Speed and IQ
How fast does your brain think? Reaction time is strongly correlated with IQ because speed makes everything run faster. IQ is a test for pattern seeking and also measures your ability to synthesize and manipulate information. A lot of this has to do with speed.
We’ve found that a test similar to the Raven’s Matrices predicts workplace performance, and there are many studies show a strong correlation to income and IQ.
Elon Musk must have a very high IQ.
How to improve IQ and speed:
- Increase myelin (R)
- DHA – the benefits are mainly for growing children, but may potentially help older people.
- Iodine – the benefits are mainly for growing children
6) Motivation/Work Ethic
Motivation is a critical ingredient. Someone can have all of the cognitive abilities, but if they aren’t motivated, they won’t get very far.
When I get inflammation and brain fog, the first thing to tank is my motivation. No motivation hacks work. And when I am motivated, there’s almost nothing I can do to make myself unmotivated.
Elon Musk is a f*cking beast. While I work 60 hours a week on average, he puts in 80-100. Luckily, there are ways to biologically enhance motivation that help me. For me, pregnenolone is by far the best because my dopamine levels are already very high.
7) Anxiety, Fear, Emotional Balance, and Openness to New Experience
Anxiety and fear paralyze the smartest and most motivated. Jews have ‘Chutzpah,’ which means that they aren’t afraid to be different or do something not socially accepted.
As Peter Thiel says, the founders of tech companies in Silicon Valley often have some degree of Asperger’s. They aren’t in tune what is normal and aren’t afraid to start things that most people think will fail. They don’t get caught up in frenzies as much.
Michael Burry in The Big Short is a good example of this type of personality. When everyone was caught up in the frenzy, he ignored it and just looked at the numbers.
When my anxiety and OCD went down as I lowered inflammation, I was able to start doing things that would paralyze me before.
Elon Musk doesn’t experience much anxiety and he deals with fear in a fatalistic way, as do I. He assumes the worst case scenario.
So when starting SpaceX, he thought there was less than a 10 percent chance it would succeed, but he was comfortable taking that risk. So, he already accepted the worst case scenario.
I don’t start anything unless I am comfortable with it failing.
He also says to solicit feedback. People who naturally have low anxiety and a low ego will solicit feedback, I believe. People don’t solicit feedback because they don’t want to get emotionally hurt by criticism or embarrassment.
How upset do you become when introduced to ideas that disagree with your own? People who are emotionally balanced don’t mind when you disagree with their ideas.
Embarrassment and other negative emotions hold people back and the less you care or are affected by these emotions, the more successful you are in business.
I think I’m naturally pretty immune to embarrassment, but I also put myself in the most embarrassing situations possible, and over time these emotions started to disappear.
Elon Musk is pretty emotionally balanced on the whole. He’s exposed to a lot of stressful situations, but if he wasn’t emotionally balanced, he would have a meltdown. The ability to think dispassionately shouldn’t be underestimated.
If you are emotionally balanced, you will be able to get through hard times without too much trouble.
- Meditation, letting go therapy
- Fatalism, which means to accept the worst case scenario and be OK with it
- Putting yourself in embarrassing situations often
If You Have Inflammation…
If you’re suffering from inflammation, that could destroy your performance. It reduces verbal and logical reasoning, but even worse it destroys working memory, motivation, and emotional balance.
Other Traits That Are Important
- Sales ability – all of the ‘Sharks’ in Shark tank have a great selling ability. Sometimes people only need this ability alone to succeed (such as Trump). Elon Musk is a great salesman. Jobs was the best salesman. Anything you do in business requires you to sell someone on something. Trump won the election by simply selling the American people that all of his policies “will be so terrific your heads will spin”.
- Creativity – Creativity often comes from having the necessary intelligence, but there are definite differences in creativity. Elon Musk is creative with his ideas. He’s not short of good ideas, but rather the ability to implement all of them. Steve Jobs was likewise creative.
- Curiosity – Curiosity and the desire to learn often come from having the ability to learn and being hardworking, which is why it’s in ‘other,’ not a perfect correlation. Elon Musk is very curious and he taught himself rocket science. Jobs was likewise curious.
- Design sense – Every business depends on design. Think Apple and Tesla. If these didn’t have the design right, they wouldn’t be the same companies. Elon Musk is involved in the design process, so I’m assuming he has a great design sense. Jobs had an amazing design sense.