Book Review: Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX and the Quest for a Fantastic Future

Elon Musk is my idol. He’s my vision of the perfect entrepreneur. He’s founded four different companies that aim to make the world a better place. This book, written by Ashlee Vance, tells the story of Elon Musk’s life, times, and works. I found this book fascinating because Vance doesn’t portray Musk as the superhero that earth deserves, but as a complex man with many strengths and weaknesses whose passion is to make the world a better place.

What I loved about this book is that it didn’t solely focused on Musk but also on the people around him. Vance sheds light on the engineers who helped Musk design the prototypes for the Tesla motors and the rockets for SpaceX. He details on the motivation for the engineers who wished to pursue building electric motors or rockets. One of Musk’s biggest criteria for both SpaceX and Tesla Motors is for them to manually build all their materials. During the finding of SpaceX, Musk hated how competitors such as Boeing spent 300 million dollars on Russian-made rockets. Musk read textbooks on how to build rockets and concluded with his co-founders that it is indeed possible to build a rocket at a much cheaper cost. Vance gives the analogy of ‘why buy a Ferrari when you can buy a Honda will do?’

As a student learning managerial and organisational communication, I found that much of what I’ve learned in these classes are applied through Musk’s form of leadership. For his organisational culture, Musk wrote an email to all his employees banning the use of new acronyms. As strange of a rule this sounds, the reason behind it is so any new engineers don’t have to learn all these new acronyms and keep everyone on the same level. He’s okay with acronyms engineers should know such as GUI, but new ones like VTS don’t make sense to him.

HIs leadership style is absolutely fascinating. Vance illustrates him both being an authoritarian leader (pretty much a dictatorship) and a democratic leader. Musk will demand his employees to do impossible tasks. If the worker refuses, Musk will fire him or her immediately and then do the task himself, which Vance has noted has followed through. Musk is known to be a callous leader as shown with an incident regarding an employee missing a press release of the first SpaceX rocket launch for the birth of his first child. “That is not an excuse!” He told him (although Vance notes Musk doesn’t recall this incident). Another example of his callousness is his disregard to the loyalty of his employees. Mary Beth Brown who has worked for him for 12 years was known to be an extension of Musk. Whenever Musk was around, she was around. She scheduled meetings for him and took him out of meetings if he was in there for too long. In 2014, she asked for a raise and Musk replies with giving her an all-expenses paid vacation and he’ll think about it. Once she came back from the vacation, she was let go because Musk “didn’t need her anymore.”

Musk is also a visionary and hopeful leader. He provides his employees with a passion to solve impossible problems and gives hope when all feels lost. His goal for SpaceX is to eventually make man become an interplanetary species. He pushed his engineers to their limits to achieve his vision. He reasons why have two engineers work 8 hours when you can have one engineer work 16 hours. There was a time where most engineers wanted to take a time off and see their families. Musk replied with “You’ll get a chance to see your family 24/7 when you’re unemployed.” That clicked with the engineers and encouraged them to work even harder. SpaceX had been doing what appears impossible compared to other space companies because they are sending a rocket every three weeks compared to every year and a half and can reuse rockets that they send up into space.

I’ve found this book applicable to me because it showcases one of the most powerful man’s leadership style. It reveals how strong he is as a leader. He is a strong leader because he has strong organisational and management skills along with the ability to understand the physics behind what he’s investing in. He may be calloused in terms of emotional quality, but I find emotional quality to be one of my strongest skills which I can use in work. He is also passionate about his impossible visions. His passion for his vision brings about passion in his employees and pushes them beyond their limits to acheive such impossible dreams. If there’s one big thing I want to take away from this book is to never stop working toward your dream because someday, that dream will become a reality.

My experience in Brooklyn

I slept a good eleven hours that day and my friend and I visited Brooklyn. We took the subway there and coming out of it was such a huge contrast to Manhattan. My first impression of Brooklyn is that it seemed to be such an average city. The buildings didn’t tower over us and there were tons of graffiti found on street walls. It felt average and I enjoyed it because it was average.  My friend attested to that by saying students dream of living in Brooklyn because it’s the perfect escape from the hasty city life.

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The first mural I see

We stayed at a coffee shop called Devacion. Devacion is a Colombian based coffee shop and my first time waling in had such a relaxing and chill ambience. It was here that I’ve tried the best-tasting coffee I’ve ever tasted. It simply was rich in the coffee flavour and bitterless. My friend stayed at Devacion to study while I explored the rest of Brooklyn. I was warned by my friend to not make eye contact with people on the street because people in Brooklyn are protective of their culture. Looking at them was like an invasion of privacy. I’ve also confirmed this norm with other friends in Manhattan. My goal was to reach DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass) and back. I walked down along the Williamsburg bridge and to my surprise, walked through an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood. It was like walking back in time seeing men dressed in long black coats and black top hats and donning their distinguished bushy beards and curly side hair. I observed many of the men were walking fast and had a cellphone next to their ear and most women were walking with their baby strollers.

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A cool house I passed by

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I always thought this was a stereotype of Brooklyn

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In the Orthodox Jewish neighborhood

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In the Orthodox Jewish Neighborhood

I reached DUMBO after an hour of walking and it wasn’t too much at all of what I thought it was. It was simply a small area beneath Manhattan Bridge. Downtown Brooklyn was nearby and I explored that. I found an awesome Halal cart and sat down on a bench and listened to the sounds that the city had to offer. I proceeded to take a different route back. I ended up in a residential area where I was in awe over the similarity of the buildings to the images I had in my head. I then stumbled upon a park. It was distinct because there was a huge stairway in the middle of it. As I walked up the steps, There was a huge pillar protruding up the park. It was a memorial.

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Downtown Brooklyn

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DUMBO

I enjoyed my time in Brooklyn. I’ve always dreamed of visiting Brooklyn because of shows like NCIS: New York and Blue Bloods. Small things like chain-linked-fenced-in basketball courts and tall apartment structures just please me because I’ve just never seen them in person before. I loved seeing the murals and graffiti on the walls because it simply screams Brooklyn.

First Day in New York City

It was my first time travelling alone. I knew two friends in New York City, one of which I met whilst I was abroad in London and the other I knew growing and was staying with. I stayed at my friend’s apartment in the Chelsea area of New York. It was right in the middle of Manhattan and close to a subway stop. When I first arrived, it was 15 degrees, the coldest I’ve been so far in my twenty years of life. Never had I put on 5 layers of clothing to keep myself insulated in such frigid temperatures. I didn’t own gloves and my hands became so ashy, they started bleeding.

I began my exploration of New York City by taking a walk on the high line, an abandoned railway now turned into a garden. I came at the absolute worst time because all the plants shrivelled and withered. After such a disappointed walk, I made my way down to Battery Park, which is on the southernmost tip of Manhattan, because I wanted to see the Statue of Liberty. I walked along the Hudson River and eventually reached the park. Battery Park was the closest I can come to the Statue of Liberty without paying for the ferry to Ellis Island. I then made my way north to visit all the sites that I missed by taking the Hudson River route.

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Battery Park

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The view as I walked to Battery Park

I first wound up at Wall Street. I saw the infamous Charging Bull statue (Unfortunately I wasn’t in New York the day that there was a statue of a little girl facing the bull). It was here that I tried Halal food for the first time and my goodness, it was one of the best tasting dishes I’ve had in my life. I visited a local church and sat down in a bench and ate it. While eating it, I overheard a woman walking out saying “I couldn’t buy a ticket to see his show, so I ended up seeing his grave.” My mind instantly went ‘oh shoot! Alexander Hamilton is buried here!’ And I got to see his grave!

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His grave

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Halal Food!

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Charging Bull Statue

I explored the rest of Wall Street and enjoyed what it had to offer. Because of what happens inside the banks make Wall Street exciting, I just took a picture of George Washington and left. My next destination was Ground Zero. Along the way, I got distracted by the random sculptures found around each corner and stopped and took pictures. Ground Zero was interesting. The atmosphere felt solemn. Its waterfall memorial is breathtaking. After that, I made my way toward the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge. It was a long walk from Ground Zero, but the view was amazing. I hit what I wanted to hit that day and tried to make my back to Chelsea. I wound up in Chinatown and explored bits and pieces of it. Throughout my walk, it was interesting to see many small things that I’ve seen in movies and TV shows like chain-linked fenced basketball courts.

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Random Street Art

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Ground Zero

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Arc De Triomphe Maybe?

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The Flatiron Building

Thanks for reading through this blog post. I’ll post my second day in New York in a few days!

A Break in New York City

Spring break is almost here. The month of February has been intense for me during university because I’ve been overwhelmed with endless amounts of work before the first half of the semester ends. Fortunately, I’ve survived what appeared to be myriad of exams, presentations, and papers. Coincidentally, the storm of work arrived the same time as the crazy Californian storm known as Lucifer. The end of February marks my insane ride through a literal and figurative storm. Looking ahead for next week, I will be spending my spring break in the East Coast of the US.

I’m ecstatic. I’ve never visited a state outside of California before. The first time I’ve ever been outside of California was when I studied abroad in London last fall. For the first half of my break, I’ll be staying in my friend’s apartment in Manhattan and plan to see all the big tourist things. Central Park, Time Square, Ground Zero, Wall Street and the Brooklyn Bridge are all on my bucket list.

I’m debating whether I should visit the Empire State Building because I’ve been atop of tall buildings before and they just don’t excite me as much and the cost to enter is $34. The Liverpool Cathedral,  the tallest Anglican church in England, was 10 pounds to enter, and I came out severely disappointed. My disdain for climbing tall buildings is that I compare them to previous hikes that I’ve done where the skyline becomes the reward for all the effort I’ve done to reach the top. Hiking Arthur’s Seat to see the city of Edinburgh was so much more fun and rewarding than taking an elevator to see the city of Liverpool.

This will be my first time exploring a huge city by myself and I’m beyond excited. I plan on vlogging my experiences to keep myself entertained as I explore the city. Stay tuned on this blog for updates and vlogs about my adventures!