Musk never changes

Wednesday, September 13th, 2023

I started reading (and enjoying) Walter Isaacson’s Elon Musk biography yesterday, so I was surprised to see that Scott Alexander already had a book review of Elon Musk up — but its subtitle clarified:

Not the new one, sorry

This isn’t the new Musk biography everyone’s talking about. This is the 2015 Musk biography by Ashlee Vance. I started reading it in July, before I knew there was a new one. It’s fine: Musk never changes. He’s always been exactly the same person he is now.


Musk has always been exactly the same person he is now, and exactly what he looks like. He is without deception, without subtlety, without unexpected depths.

The main answer to the paradox of “how does he succeed while making so many bad decisions?” is that he’s the most focused person in the world. When he decides to do something, he comes up with an absurdly optimistic timeline for how quickly it can happen if everything goes as well as the laws of physics allow. He — I think the book provides ample evidence for this — genuinely believes this timeline, or at least half-believingly wills for it to be true. Then, when things go less quickly than that, it’s like red-hot knives stabbing his brain. He gets obsessed, screams at everyone involved, puts in twenty hour days for months on end trying to try to get the project “back on track”. He comes up with absurd shortcuts nobody else would ever consider, trying to win back a few days or weeks. If a specific person stands in his way, he fires that person (if they are an employee), unleashes nonstop verbal abuse on them (if they will listen) or sues them (if they’re anyone else). The end result never quite reaches the original goal, but still happens faster than anyone except Elon thought possible. A Tesla employee described his style as demanding a car go from LA to NYC on a single charge, which is impossible, but he puts in such a strong effort that the car makes it to New Mexico.

This is the Musk Strategy For Business Success; the rest is just commentary.


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    Do I sense a sort of Steve Jobs vibe here?

  2. Bomag says:

    I’d like to know how he attracts capable people who put up with the excessive demands.

    Stalin et al had the same model, but they mainly ended up with a pile of bodies and marginal results.

  3. Longarch says:

    [bad Ron Perlman impression]

    Musk … Musk never changes …

    [/bad Ron Perlman impression]

    [non-skippable Bethesda intro sequence precedes character creation screen]

  4. Isegoria says:

    I had to look up “Ron Perlman Bethesda” to find what you were referring to.

  5. Longarch says:

    Sorry for the obscure joke. Because you always post the most insightful ideas about wargaming I can find anywhere, I always assume you know everything about military history, wargaming, and geeky spin-offs like civilian games. The Fallout series of games started off as a remarkable fountain of risk-taking creativity. It drew on very obscure sources, including seldom-read Phil K. Dick stories. Because its source material was diverse and often totally unknown to most of its audience, it seemed to be incredibly original.

    After the initial efflorescence of the first game, in my opinion, most of the other games have been very disappointing.

    If you have an interest in the Phil K. Dick inspiration of the game, I recommend avoiding review of “The Days of Perky Pat,” because they are likely to contain spoilers.

    It is the first story in this PDF.

  6. Isegoria says:

    Fallout definitely caught my eye, but I haven’t played any computer games seriously since…the original Starcraft?

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