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What is the secret of thinking Elon Musk
What is the secret of thinking Elon Musk

The author of the Wait But Why blog, Tim Urban, analyzed the views and achievements of Elon Musk and figured out how to learn to think in the same way as a brilliant engineer and entrepreneur.

What is the secret of thinking Elon Musk
What is the secret of thinking Elon Musk

He perceives the brain as a computer

To understand Musk's thinking, let's first remember how he speaks. For example, what would an ordinary child say: “I am afraid of the dark. When it's dark, monsters can attack me, but I can't defend myself. " And what Musk said in an interview: “As a child, I was very afraid of the dark. But then I realized that darkness is simply the absence of photons in the visible part of the spectrum. Then I thought it was somehow silly to be afraid of the absence of photons. Since then, I was no longer afraid of the dark."

This peculiar "language of the Mask" describes reality exactly as it is. And this is how Musk thinks about all areas of life. For example, he said that he became easier about death when he had children.


Elon Musk

Children are like you yourself. They are half you at the hardware level. And the similarity at the software level depends on how much time you spend with them.

When you and I look at children, we see small, cute, but still stupid people. When Musk looks at his children, he sees five of his favorite computers. When he looks at you, he sees a computer. Looking in the mirror, he also sees a computer - his own.

Literally, it is. The simplest definition of a computer is an object that stores and processes data. Our brains do it too. If you think of it as a computer, you notice the difference between your hardware and your software.

Computer hardware consists of chips, wires, and other physical components. For a person, these are the cerebral hemispheres with which he is born. They determine his intelligence, innate talents and weaknesses.

Computer software is programs, procedures and rules for information processing. And for a person, this is his worldview, thinking models and ways of making decisions.

Life is a stream of incoming information that enters the brain through the senses. It is our "software" that filters this input data, processes and structures it, and then uses it to generate the output data - a solution.

“Hardware” can be thought of as a piece of clay that is given to us at birth. Of course, not all clay is created equal. But it is the “software” that will influence the instrument that this clay turns into.

He is constantly improving his "software"

The structure of Musk's “software”, like that of other people, begins with the “Desires” cell.


It contains situations that you want to transfer from state A to state B. For example:

  • “I have little money” → “I have more money”;
  • “I don’t like my job” → “I like my job”;
  • “I can’t play the cello” → “I can play the cello”;
  • “There are many poor in Chad” → “There are slightly fewer poor in Chad”;
  • "I run 5 km in 25 minutes" → "I run 5 km in 20 minutes."

Then comes the Reality cell. It contains what can actually happen.


At the intersection of these two cells are possible targets. From these, you choose what to transfer from state A to state B.


To change something, you make an effort. Waste time, resources, mental and physical energy, use your talents and connections. By choosing a goal, you determine the most effective way to achieve it. This is your strategy.


So far, everything is simple. And not much different from how you and I think.

But Musk's "software" is not so effective because of its structure, but because he uses it as a scientist.

How to learn to think like Elon Musk

1. Create each component of your "software" from scratch

Musk calls this "basic principles."

“Usually people think by looking back at tradition or past experience,” he explains. “They say:“We have always done this, that's why we will do it too”or“Nobody does this, there is nothing to try.” But this is nonsense. Build your reasoning from scratch - from the basic principles, as they say in physics. Take the very basics and start from them, then you will see whether your conclusion works or not. And in the end it may or may not differ from what they did before you."

Musk constantly applies this kind of thinking in his life. With this approach, decision-making takes place in four stages:

  1. Fill in the "Desires" cell. To do this, you need to understand yourself well and be honest with yourself.
  2. Fill in the "Reality" cell. You need to be as clear as possible about the situation in the world and your abilities.
  3. Choose a target. It must be workable. Choose it after carefully weighing all the options.
  4. Form a strategy. Build on your knowledge, not how others usually do.

2. Make corrections as new information arrives

Think of math proof problems. For example:

  • Given: A = B.
  • Given: B = C + D.
  • Therefore: A = C + D.

In mathematics, everything is accurate. The data in it are specific, and the conclusions are undeniable. The starting points in it are called axioms, they are 100% correct. When we draw conclusions from axioms - we get consequences - there is no doubt that they are 100% correct.

In other sciences, there are no axioms and consequences, and there is a good reason for this. For example, Newton's law of universal gravitation has long been considered immutable. But then Einstein proved that Newton looked at everything too narrowly, like those who previously thought the Earth was flat.

More broadly, it turns out that Newton's law does not work under certain conditions. But the general theory of relativity works. It would seem that it is necessary to consider it as an absolute. Only now, quantum mechanics appeared, which proved that the general theory of relativity is not applicable at the molecular level.

In natural sciences, there are no axioms and consequences, because there is nothing absolute in the world. Anything that seems so to us can be refuted.

Scientists build theories on objective data and take them for truth. With the advent of new data, the theory can be corrected or refuted. In ordinary life, it is impossible to build a real scientific theory. Life is not amenable to precise measurement. The most that we can - make a guess based on the available data. In science, this is called a hypothesis. That is:

  • Given (based on what I know): A = B.
  • Given (based on what I know): B = C + D.
  • Hence (based on what I know): A = C + D.

You can only test your hypothesis with an action. You put in the effort and see what happens.

In the process, you get feedback from the outside world. New ideas are being born to you. Now your strategy needs to be tweaked.


But this is not the end of it. The cell with desires reflects only your aspirations at a certain moment. Desires change, you yourself are constantly changing. Therefore, you need to regularly think about what you want and make amendments.


The Reality cell is also not static. Your abilities develop over time, and the world changes. What was possible ten years ago is significantly different from what is possible now. Remember to keep this cell up to date.


Remember that the cells represent your current hypotheses, and the circles are the sources of new information. It is the circles that determine how the hypothesis changes. If you do not update the data in them, the information in the cells will become outdated.

So, below we see the process of forming goals, and above - the process of achieving them. But goals also change over time, because they arise at the intersection of your desires and real possibilities. Therefore, do not forget to check whether this or that goal is still important to you.


To do this, from time to time, break away from current affairs and think about your life. It is possible that what you are currently working on does not make it onto your list of goals anymore. So it's time to change something: break off relations, find another job, move, change your point of view.

This mindset is a flexible system based on solid core principles. It is designed to be flexible and able to change depending on your needs.