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How Elon Musk Gains Massive Success by Learning Differently from Everyone Else

How Elon Musk Gains Massive Success by Learning Differently from Everyone Else

There are successful people and then there are extremely successful people. We all know it’s not about luck but more sheer hard work, determination and belief. But in the case of Elon Musk – who has built up four successful multi-million dollar companies – how does he do it?

He’s not only built up these four companies incredibly successfully but they’re all in separate industries – software, energy, aerospace and transportation. Surely this goes against all we’re taught? Shouldn’t we always focus on just one field in order to become the complete expert?

So what is the secret to Musk’s success? The answer lies in his ability to be an expert generalist.

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What Exactly Is an Expert Generalist?

The term expert generalist was coined by Orit Gadiesh, chairman of Bain & Co. to describe someone who has the ability to learn and master several different disciplines and skills.

You may have heard the phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none” which implies that by trying to learn many things, you inhibit your ability to master any of them fully. This is how many teachers and mentors have approached the way of achieving success. However, Elon Musk is an example of the opposite and proves that success can come from learning a wide variety of subjects in a deep way and gaining the ability to transfer and apply knowledge to several different fields.

How Being an Expert Generalist Can Bring You More Success

It’s time to break the myth that focusing on one discipline is what gets us the most success in life, especially when it comes to business.

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In today’s world, business and the world’s economies are changing at a rapid pace. This means that, to get as much chance of success as you can, you need to be able to quickly adapt to change. This is how expert generalists such as Elon Musk get ahead of the game because they take care of both the breadth and depth of knowledge on many different subjects.

But this isn’t a new concept. Many successful people throughout the centuries have adopted this approach including Picasso, Richard Feymann and Charlie Munger who have all been able to master several, almost opposing, disciplines. They all carry similar characteristics including openness, an appetite for learning and the ability to draw ideas from multiple disciplines and be able to apply them across different subjects – in other words, they are all creative.

This idea was reflected in a study[1] that examined how the top 59 opera composers of the 20th century mastered their success. They found that a certain degree of ‘cross-training’ was adopted rather than the expected result that deliberate focus and practice is what is the cause of a composers success.

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So how exactly has Elon Musk developed a strategy that allows him to become an expert generalist? It’s all down to the concept of learning transfer which is a process of deconstructing and reconstructing the fundamental principles of knowledge.

The Learning Transfer Technique Revealed

This two-step process is something Elon Musk has talked about in multiple interviews as his secret to his exceptional success.

  • Deconstruction of Knowledge into Fundamental Principles: This is basically the idea that when learning a new subject we shouldn’t just take one approach (often the most obvious or expected one) but look at several approaches, deconstruct and compare each one. This will ultimately highlight underlying fundamental principles.
  • Reconstruct Fundamental Principles into New Areas: Elon Musk deconstructed his knowledge in artificial intelligence, technology, physics, and engineering and applied the fundamental principles to each of his businesses. In other words, he saw how the fundamental principles could be adapted and applied to new things instead of seeing each well of knowledge for each subject as only being separate and disconnected from each other.

This ultimately generates new ideas and to ‘think outside the box’ using creativity as a tool to use basic fundamental principles to create different perspectives.

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How to Become an Expert Generalist and How to Adopt the Learning Transfer Ability

While many successful people are expert generalists, Elon Musk stands out as a true advocate for ultimate achievement. So what does he do to get to this level and what steps can we take?

  • Read extensively: It’s not about reading a book every now and then, Musk would read around 60 times more than the average reader. The passion and thirst for knowledge must exist.
  • Read about a wide range of disciplines: As discussed earlier, it’s not about focusing well on one subject but gaining knowledge from a wide variety in order to get a broader perspective.
  • Deconstruct the ideas: What similar themes run through each discipline? How do they compare and contrast?
  • Reconstruct the fundamental principles: Always ask yourself ‘what does this remind me of?’ and ‘why does it remind me of it?’ This helps you see possible connections across the different pools of knowledge and subjects that will allow you to reconstruct new ideas.
  • Be unique in your thinking: Elon Musk says “when you want to learn something, you have got to boil it down to its simplest form, and then work your way up from there. You can never learn from others’ work.” In other words, don’t take a way that someone does something at face value – always search for different perspectives.

So if you’re looking to adopt the expert generalist mindset, the key is to recognise the value in new experiences and subjects. Opening yourself up to learning something new will deepen your knowledge base, while questioning concepts and seeing connections will help you come up with innovative ideas and solutions.

Reference

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Jenny Marchal

A passionate writer who loves sharing about positive psychology.

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Last Updated on May 26, 2020

Top 10 Reasons Why People Don’t Reach Their Goals

Top 10 Reasons Why People Don’t Reach Their Goals

With everything that happens around us, it is sometimes difficult to reach our goals. This is compounded if you have any of the reasons on the list below.

Luckily, in addition to the top 10 reasons why people don’t reach their goals, I’ve included a quick fix for each of them. So let’s get to it.

1. Creating Vague Goals

When you don’t know where you are going, it is really hard to get there. Many people set themselves up for failure when they set goals that are unclear. “I want to lose weight” sounds like a great goal but the people who set this kind of goal will never reach it. It is not because the people are not motivated or disciplined but because the goal is too general. Do you want to lose 5 lbs or 50 lbs?

Quick Fix:  Set SMART goals by being Specific, making sure they are Measurable, Achievable and Realistic, and last but not least — give yourself a Time deadline. If you want to go one step further, you may want to read The Missing Letter in Your Smart Goals.

2. Lacking a Higher Purpose

Goals can be set on any topic imaginable but if you don’t have a higher purpose, it makes it is easy to give up once the initial motivation and excitement wears off. Understanding how your goal is relevant to you allows you to persevere even when the going gets tough.

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Quick Fix: When setting your SMART goal, ask yourself how the goal is relevant to your life and what you want to achieve.

3. Procrastinating

Even when you have SMART goals that are relevant to your purpose, if you don’t get started, you’ll never achieve your goal. One of the most dangerous phrases is “I’ll do it later.”

Quick Fix: Make sure the goal has been broken down into manageable pieces and then start right away. Here are 11 Practical Ways to Stop Procrastination.

4. Not Taking Responsibility

Things will go wrong. That’s a fact of life. When something comes up and you don’t achieve your goal, who do you blame? Your boss who kept you at work late so you couldn’t work on your book or maybe the horrible weather that stopped you from going to the gym. If it’s not your fault, there is nothing you can do, right?

Quick Fix: Own up to not reaching your goals. When you take responsibility, you’ll become resourceful knowing that you have control over the attainment of your goals.

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5. Listening to People Who Discourage You

When you go for your goals, especially the big ones that really count and fit in with your purpose in life, it is inevitable that people will discourage you. There are many reasons for this: concern, jealousy, ignorance, etc. How many goals have already been given up on because other people decided they were not worth pursuing?

Quick Fix: This one is easy. As long as you know the purpose for your goal, ignore the naysayers. You can take what they are saying into consideration but make sure you make the final choice.

6. Starting Too Many Projects

I’m a starter. That sounds like a good thing but not when you start too many things, you don’t end up finishing many of them. This usually stems from the fear of missing out (FOMO) or being someone who has many ideas.

Quick Fix: Understand that you have a limited amount of time and that you can’t do everything. To deal with FOMO, realize that by not finishing, you are missing out on all the opportunities that open up when you finish the projects you are working on.

7. Being Negative

If you think you’re not going to make it, then you’re probably not going to make it. If you don’t believe you’re going to reach your goal, then when you fail, it is expected which makes it easy to stop trying. When you are optimistic and a setback occurs, you focus your energy on finding solutions because you truly believe there is one. If you believe that you suffer from bad luck, check out this article.

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Quick Fix: Consider the idea that optimism and pessimism are both expectations of the future. Each are equally likely to be true but which belief will help you lead a happier more fulfilled life? Instead of wasting your energy on complaining, spend that energy on learning.

8. Being Selfish

There are people out there that think it is silly to help others. They believe in taking and not giving. They are misers with their time, money and knowledge and are only interested in opportunities where they stand to benefit. Most big goals require the help of others and it is very difficult to help people who only care about taking.

Quick Fix: Serve others first. Always look for ways to add value to other people.

9. Surrounding Yourself with People Who Don’t Reach Their Goals

You are who you associate with. This may be hard to swallow for some people and there are always exceptions to the rule but for the most part, we act in accordance with the people around us. This comes from the strong ad natural desire to belong and to be accepted (think of all the dumb things you did in high school just to fit in).

Quick Fix: Associate with people who always reach their goals.

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10. Watching Too Much TV

Not all TV is bad but if you are watching TV then most likely you are not doing anything to move one step closer to your goal. The problem with TV these days is that it is captivating. There are programs for all interests and hobbies and the shows keep getting better and better. Those who watch alot of TV usually don’t reach their goals and perhaps people watch TV because they don’t have any goals.

Quick Fix: Shut off the TV. Cancel the cable. Pick up a book that will help you move one step closer to your goal. Here are 6 Steps to Remove TV from your Life.

Do you have anything to add? What do you think are the reasons why people don’t reach their goals and what are your thought about the 10 reasons we have listed here. Feel free to give your own effective quick fixes for the different reasons in the comments section below.

Featured photo credit: Kyle Glenn via unsplash.com

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