Elon Musk is that kid that says he’s going to the moon when he grows up and then actually does it, except Musk’s moon is building a multibillion dollar company — and he’s done it four times in four different fields (software, energy, transportation, and aerospace).
This unparalleled success has, of course, inspired many to emulate the SpaceX founder’s techniques, but exactly how he has managed to be so successful over and over again is still a relative mystery to most “normal” people.
However, bestselling author Michael Simmons summed up why he thinks Elon Musk “learns faster and better than everyone else” in a Medium post. You can read it in full here, but we’ve rounded up the most important points for you below.
He busts the “jack of all trades” myth
Simmons highlights the fact that many people are told to focus just on one field because learning in multiple areas is a waste of time as you’ll only learn at a surface level. However, Musk busts that myth by proving you can become a master of more than just one trade. Simmons explains:
Learning across multiple fields provides an information advantage (and therefore an innovation advantage) because most people focus on just one field.
For example, if you’re in the tech industry and everyone else is just reading tech publications, but you also know a lot about biology, you have the ability to come up with ideas that almost no one else could.
According to his brother, Musk would read through two books per day in various disciplines. If you, like the average person, read one book a month, that means Musk would read 60 times as many books as you. But that's not all, according to Simmons:
Elon Musk is also good at a very specific type of learning that most others aren’t even aware of — learning transfer.
Learning transfer is taking what we learn in one context and applying it to another. It can be taking a kernel of what we learn in school or in a book and applying it to the “real world.” It can also be taking what we learn in one industry and applying it to another.
This is where Musk shines.
Musk has taken the time to learn foundational principles in artificial intelligence, technology, physics, and engineering and turned around to reconstruct them into separate fields, such as aerospace to create SpaceX, automotive to create Tesla, or technology to help build PayPal just to name a few.
Taking part in a Reddit AMA some time ago, Musk hinted at how he approaches learning and how that helps him transfer knowledge from one context to another.
Elon Musk / Reddit
I think most people can learn a lot more than they think they can. They sell themselves short without trying.
One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree -- make sure you understand the fundamental principles, ie the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.
Head over to Simmons's Medium post here.
In related news, Japanese scientists have made a robot that sweats and can do pushups.