Elon Musk - Walter Isaacson ![rw-book-cover|200x400](https://readwise-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/media/reader/parsed_document_assets/91281538/cover-image-9781982181307_ZlwBq3Y.jpg) ## Metadata - Author: **Walter Isaacson** - Full Title: Elon Musk - Category: #articles ## Highlights - As a kid growing up in South Africa, Elon Musk knew pain and learned how to survive it. ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01hak8wqmcyc87v6qjpd9tfepm)) - Empathy did not come naturally, and he had neither the desire nor the instinct to be ingratiating ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01hak9522bka0r3b7qdf4v8v02)) - If your father is always calling you a moron and idiot, maybe the only response is to turn off anything inside that would’ve opened up an emotional dimension that he didn’t have tools to deal with.” This emotional shutoff valve could make him callous, but it also made him a risk-seeking innovator. “He learned to shut down fear,” she says. “If you turn off fear, then maybe you have to turn off other things, like joy or empathy.” ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01hak9m67t1zcbs5whzp7rvfg4)) - The PTSD from his childhood also instilled in him an aversion to contentment. “I just don’t think he knows how to savor success and smell the flowers,” says Claire Boucher, the artist known as Grimes, who is the mother of three of his other children. “I think he got conditioned in childhood that life is pain.” Musk agrees. “Adversity shaped me,” he says. “My pain threshold became very high ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01hak9nhcgt8rq8jd225awz4mt)) - While other entrepreneurs struggled to develop a worldview, he developed a cosmic view. ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01hak9yrjb13p7r8ct30mx55w6)) - Elon wants risk for its own sake,” says Peter Thiel, who became his partner in the early days of PayPal. “He seems to enjoy it, indeed at times be addicted to it.” ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01hak9zx91kp2588xm7t7s2etg)) ## New highlights added September 18, 2023 at 9:58 AM - Haldeman imprinted that spirit onto one of his twin girls, Elon’s mother, Maye. “I know that I can take a risk as long as I’m prepared,” she says ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01hamc0bgr3x2ksypgetxaqwcj)) - Errol Musk and Maye Haldeman began dating when they were young teenagers. From the start, their relationship was filled with drama. He repeatedly proposed to her, but she didn’t trust him ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01hamccafa79c2psh5b4ebtpa7)) - As a child, he says, he heard about a science fiction book by the rocket scientist Wernher von Braun called *Project Mars*, which describes a colony on the planet run by an executive known as “the Elon.” ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01hamchz3mmem16skrs8ht5qdb)) - His parents got called in to see the principal, who told them, “We have reason to believe that Elon is retarded. ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01hamcpv8ha06z05s3168apyv5)) - He spent most of his time in a trance, not listening, one of his teachers explained. “He looks out of the window all the time, and when I tell him to pay attention he says, ‘The leaves are turning brown now.’ ” Errol replied that Elon was right, the leaves were turning brown ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01hamcqm690jpdtaym6yj4138b)) - Ever since I was a kid, if I start to think about something hard, then all of my sensory systems turn off,” he says. “I can’t see or hear or anything. I’m using my brain to compute, not for incoming information ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01hamcrqw9tabrfg98xnwjak0q)) ## New highlights added September 19, 2023 at 7:54 PM - Elon developed a reputation for being the most fearless. When the cousins went to a movie and people were making noise, he would be the one to go over and tell them to be quiet, even if they were much bigger. “It’s a big theme for him to never have his decisions guided by fear,” Peter recalls. “That was definitely present even when he was a child.” ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01har5ezd2h6k3gbc8gttabndc)) - That lesson stuck with Musk. “I took from the book that we need to extend the scope of consciousness so that we are better able to ask the questions about the answer, which is the universe,” he says. ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01har72a9jhnw52s7sr4tay3jj)) - As Douglas Adams writes, “There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened. ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01har745f9njsxhzqn7sfb2kzt)) - “I wasn’t really going to put a lot of effort into things I thought were meaningless,” he says. “I would rather be reading or playing video games.” He got an A in the physics part of his senior certificate exams, but somewhat surprisingly, only a B in the math part. ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01har5nq3anr1sh9j6xjx9a36x)) - In his spare time, he liked to make small rockets and experiment with different mixtures—such as swimming-pool chlorine and brake fluid—to see what would make the biggest bang. He also learned magic tricks and how to hypnotize people, once convincing Tosca that she was a dog and getting her to eat raw bacon. ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01har5s1gbacqkgcfghhqygez7)) - Both the religious and the scientific explanations of existence, he says, did not address the really big questions, such as *Where did the universe come from, and why does it exist?* Physics could teach everything about the universe except why. That led to what he calls his adolescent existential crisis. “I began trying to figure out what the meaning of life and the universe was,” he says. “And I got real depressed about it, like maybe life may have no meaning.” ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01har67hh4frd8zsm1rt4ms83z)) - One of his favorites was Robert Heinlein’s *The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress*, a novel about a lunar penal colony ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01har6abzgar4p0g0gkef01cy0)) - Asimov expounds the most fundamental of these rules, dubbed the Zeroth Law: “A robot may not harm humanity, or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.” ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01har6dernz3kbn8zbn7mkqh1d)) - The heroes of Asimov’s *Foundation* series of books develop a plan to send settlers to distant regions of the galaxy to preserve human consciousness in the face of an impending dark age. ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01har6ee3cgdwgqym6bsk2h7sn)) ## New highlights added September 20, 2023 at 9:42 AM - The difficulty of getting traveler’s checks replaced (it took weeks) was an early taste of how the financial payments system needed disruption. ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01har923syjpgyxrdtwyzaw5n2)) - Nicholson, then forty-nine, and Elon had fun together solving math puzzles and weird equations. “I was interested in the philosophical side of physics and how it related to reality,” Nicholson says. “I didn’t have a lot of other people to talk to about these things.” They also discussed what had become Musk’s passion: space travel. ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01harbdrjxhves2f5q7pccrjqb)) - Musk also drew another lesson from his time at Scotiabank: he did not like, nor was he good at, working for other people. It was not in his nature to be deferential or to assume that others might know more than he did. ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01harbkhjhnt7s4tda38r1sm0r)) - The essence of being an engineer, he felt, was to address any problem by drilling down to the most fundamental tenets of physics ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01harbqjrnjnqqhwbrq5nmb5eq)) - I was concerned that if I didn’t study business, I would be forced to work for someone who did ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01harbr4f6jdp196drnazqqk1t)) - My goal was to engineer products by having a feel for the physics and never have to work for a boss with a business degree ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01harbrzvr728r3hfyk0y1enth)) - Instead, he fit comfortably into a crowd of geeks who liked making clever jokes involving scientific forces, playing *Dungeons & Dragons*, binging on video games, and writing computer code. ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01harbx1dxpd3mf64xfs450174)) - Ren recalls that Musk focused on the three areas that would shape his career. Whether he was calibrating the force of gravity or analyzing the properties of materials, he would discuss with Ren how the laws of physics applied to building rockets. “He kept talking about making a rocket that could go to Mars,” Ren recalls. “Of course, I didn’t pay much attention, because I thought he was fantasizing.” ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01harc0102f0d35f7wt9a2hvtb)) - Ressi later marveled that Musk usually seemed a bit detached. “He enjoyed being around a party but not fully in it. The only thing he binged on was video games.” Despite all of their partying, he understood that Musk was fundamentally alienated and withdrawn, like an observer from a different planet trying to learn the motions of sociability. “I wish Elon knew how to be a little happier,” he says. ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01harccghhs1zf96dfwgbgpzv2)) - They were impressed and wanted him to work full-time, but he needed to graduate in order to get a U.S. work visa. In addition, he came to a realization: he had a fanatic love of video games and the skills to make money creating them, but that was not the best way to spend his life. “I wanted to have more impact,” he says. ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01harcmx41qkvax1vxzh4je0ay)) - He had conceived by then a life vision that he would repeat like a mantra. “I thought about the things that will truly affect humanity,” he says. “I came up with three: the internet, sustainable energy, and space travel ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01hard5bh40tr71cs7n0hmyeed)) - Every time investors would come in, we showed them the tower,” Kimbal says, “and we would laugh because it made them think we were doing hardcore stuff ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01hardy3emqvs9yxtpafpk3pej)) - Rich Sorkin, who had run business development for an audio equipment company, was made the CEO of Zip2. Elon was moved aside to chief technology officer. At first, he thought the change would suit him; he could focus on building the product. But he learned a lesson. “I never wanted to be a CEO,” he says, “but I learned that you could not truly be the chief technology or product officer unless you were the CEO.” ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01hare4er63k7yqwerz6c6ffnc)) ## New highlights added September 21, 2023 at 8:56 AM - “He’s not a man who takes no for an answer,” she says. ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01haw2m7jhxf8bxv0rjamb7ww9)) - She was impressed by his aspirations. “Unlike other ambitious people, he never talked about making money,” she says. “He assumed that he would be either wealthy or broke, but nothing in between. What interested him were the problems he wanted to solve.” His indomitable will—whether for making her date him or for building electric cars—mesmerized her. “Even when it seemed like crazy talk, you would believe him because he believed it.” ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01haw2p6s47ep07y52n965e6ny)) - They smiled and kissed. Then, as they danced, he whispered to her a reminder: “I am the alpha in this relationship.” ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01haw35jva7x0bcjy1v9qh9jd3)) - When his cousin Peter Rive visited in early 1999, he found Musk poring over books about the banking system. “I’m trying to think about what to start next,” he explained. His experience at Scotiabank had convinced him that the industry was ripe for disruption. So in March 1999, he founded X.com with a friend from the bank, Harris Fricker. ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01haw38nt0hb3v7ds3xepdkz1x)) - At one point Musk responded with a very self-aware email. “I am by nature obsessive-compulsive,” he wrote Fricker. “What matters to me is winning, and not in a small way. God knows why… it’s probably rooted in some very disturbing psychoanalytical black hole or neural short circuit.” ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01haw3en9ex7vt51cn48kr8kn5)) - Believing that Musk needed adult supervision, Moritz convinced him to step aside the following month and allow Bill Harris, the former head of Intuit, to become CEO. In a reprise of what had happened at Zip2, Musk remained as chief product officer and board chair, maintaining his frenzied intensity. After one meeting with investors, he went down to the cafeteria, where he had set up some arcade video games. “There were several of us playing *Street Fighter* with Elon,” says Roelof Botha, the chief financial officer. “He was sweating, and you could see that he was a bundle of energy and intensity.” ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01haw3metn9cqqp7sdvbs41k8j)) - Musk was drawn to the fight with the intensity of a video-gamer. Thiel, on the contrary, liked to coolly calculate and mitigate risk. It soon became clear to both of them that the network effect—whichever company got bigger first would then grow even faster—meant that only one would survive ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01haw3sq4rycha2c2xkyc929xg)) - “We would own ninety percent of the merged company and you would own ten percent,” Musk replied. Levchin was not quite sure what to make of Musk. Was he serious? They had roughly equal user bases. “He had an extremely serious I’m-not-joking look on his face, but underneath there seemed to be an ironic streak,” Levchin says. As Musk later conceded, “We were playing a game.” ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01haw3vj93rsfqjten1rh59rp4)) - “So, what can this car do?” Thiel asked. “Watch this,” Musk replied, pulling into the fast lane and flooring the accelerator. The rear axle broke and the car spun around, hit an embankment, and flew in the air like a flying saucer. Parts of the body shredded. Thiel, a practicing libertarian, was not wearing a seatbelt, but he emerged unscathed. He was able to hitch a ride up to the Sequoia offices. Musk, also unhurt, stayed behind for a half-hour to have his car towed away, then joined the meeting without telling Harris what had happened. Later, Musk was able to laugh and say, “At least it showed Peter I was unafraid of risks.” Says Thiel, “Yeah, I realized he was a bit crazy.” ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01haw3ywsgqjmrnphnqnr8g6hk)) - A break came when Musk had a bonding experience with Thiel and Levchin at another lunch, this one at Il Fornaio, a white-tablecloth Italian restaurant in Palo Alto. They had waited a long time without being served, so Harris barged into the kitchen to see what dishes he could extract. Musk, Thiel, and Levchin looked at each other and exchanged glances. “Here was this extreme extrovert business-development type acting like he had an S on his chest, and the three of us are all very nerdy,” Levchin says. “We bonded over being the type of people who would never do what Bill did.” ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01haw45jdc7hmgvksy0nb6naxg)) - They agreed to a merger in which X.com would get 55 percent of the combined company, but Musk almost ruined things soon after by telling Levchin he was getting a steal. Infuriated, Levchin threatened to pull out. ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01haw46shw4w8bm5bybxjq7pdk)) - The terms were revised once again, to basically a 50-50 merger, but with X.com as the surviving corporate entity. In March 2000, the deal was consummated, and Musk, the largest stockholder, became the chairman. A few weeks later, he joined with Levchin to force Harris out and regain the role of CEO as well. Adult supervision was no longer welcome. ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01haw48010pvavbb8m2wdxgann)) - Musk restructured the company so that there was not a separate engineering department. Instead, engineers would team up with product managers. It was a philosophy that he would carry through to Tesla, SpaceX, and then Twitter. Separating the design of a product from its engineering was a recipe for dysfunction. Designers had to feel the immediate pain if something they devised was hard to engineer. He also had a corollary that worked well for rockets but less so for Twitter: engineers rather than the product managers should lead the team. ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01haw4dyhj9w99mfc5pjcjpsm7)) - I think a huge part of the way he motivates people are these displays of sharpness, which people just don’t expect from him, because they mistake him for a bullshitter or goofball.” ([View Highlight](https://read.readwise.io/read/01haw4qcw7getedsx51b01fq00))