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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 August 4, 2020

How to Make Time Go Faster When You’re Having a Bad Time

How to Make Time Go Faster When You’re Having a Bad Time

Standing at the front of the room, your heart is pounding as people stroll in, and you’ve been up since 5 am rehearsing. You’ve spent weeks preparing for this moment. Your slides are perfect, and you’ve memorized your talk.

As the clock shows 9:30, you begin with a customary “good morning” and then zilch. Nothing. Your mind goes blank. Suddenly, time seems to stop. Everything goes into slow motion, and you can feel your face begin to burn.

For anyone who has done presentations in front of a live audience, freezing at the wrong time is a nightmare waiting to happen, and when it does, if feels like time has frozen. The feeling of helplessness drags on, and you just wish the clock would fast forward so you can escape from the nightmare.

Of course, the reality is that time does not speed up or slow down. Time is constant; only our perception of passing time changes[1]. This is a good thing, too. What is happening is that your fight or flight response is kicking in, and you have become hyper-aware of your situation. Your brain is recognizing you are in danger and responding in the best way it knows how.

This perceived slowing down of time is an illusion[2]. It is your brain creating and processing more memories of your current environment and searching out the threat it has detected. It’s searching for the predator that has decided you look like an exquisite meal, and it is doing this incredibly fast — much faster than it typically would. It is how we protect ourselves, and, in most cases, it is a beneficial response.

However, in many cases, it can be torturous to be in this situation, feeling helpless and frozen and being hyper-aware of our unfortunate situation. So what can you do to speed up the perception of time?

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1. Have a Backup Plan

If you cast your mind back to the situation at the start of this article, your brain has frozen and your carefully crafted words are lost somewhere inside your head: What do you do? Most people panic, and, despite their careful preparation and rehearsal, one part they did not rehearse is when or if something goes wrong.

Freezing on stage can happen to even the most seasoned presenter, and having a script or a set of queue cards on hand can quickly refresh/reboot your brain to get you back on track and avoid the torturous feeling of being in a slow-motion crash.

Steve Jobs was a very experienced presenter. One of the best. Yet even though his preparation was meticulous — often taking as much as six months to put together a keynote presentation — things still went wrong. In this famous clip of a keynote Steve Jobs gave back in 2010, the WIFI network was very slow. When you watch the clip, it feels like it goes on forever, yet it only lasts around two and a half minutes. For a presentation that lasted about two hours, two and a half minutes is around two per cent. Not at all long, yet for Steve Jobs and the audience, the whole incident felt a lot longer.

Fortunately, as a seasoned presenter, Steve Jobs broke the tension and the feeling that time was slowing down by using humor and eventually moving on to the next part of the keynote. He had a backup, and his backup was to quickly, and without fuss, move on to the next segment.

Always have a backup plan and an exit strategy. Be prepared for the worst and be ready to switch to your backup plan if things do go wrong.

2. Focus on What You Have Control Over

You have control over three things: your thoughts, your emotions, and your actions. Nothing else. You cannot control events, how other people judge you, or whether another person will get upset by what you say or do.

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Most bad days are a result of the way we react to something we have no control over. A client takes their business to your rival. You had no control over that. That was a decision your client made based on a set of circumstances and the way they felt about those circumstances. The only control you have in this situation is how you feel about losing a client. You could be angry; you might look around for someone to blame or for an excuse. But in the end, none of that will change the fact you no longer serve that client.

In these situations, always begin by reminding yourself about what you have control over. Are there any positive action steps you can take that will solve the problem? Are you allowing your emotions to influence your mood? Are you thinking negatively or positively about this situation?

In all these scenarios, you can instantly decide to change your thoughts, your feelings, and the action you take. You have to make that decision.

If you do lose an important client, and there is no solution, you can use the experience to learn. Use it as an opportunity to analyze what went wrong and implement changes to the way you do things that minimize the chances of a similar situation happening with your other clients in the future.

Dwelling on the loss will prolong your suffering, slowing down perceived time and making you feel dreadful. Using the situation to learn from your mistakes will help you to get back on track and keep time moving forward at a pace you are satisfied with.

3. Take Full Responsibility for the Situation

Accepting full responsibility for your life allows you to overcome adversity and difficulties. While a massive viral pandemic may not be your fault, what you do in the circumstances is your responsibility.

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Being in lockdown, where you must remain in your home, is something beyond your control (see number 2), but what you do with your time, how you manage your work, and how you maintain your health is your responsibility.

Governments may order you to stay at home, but what you do with your time while you are at home is something you are responsible for.

In these situations, you have a choice. Use the extra time you have positively, or pass responsibility for your life to the daily negative news cycles.

When you take responsibility for your life, you take back control[3].

Complaining about the situation only ensures you stay stuck in the same miserable place. Accepting responsibility for your life gives you so many more options.

You could take that online course you have been thinking about doing, or paint that picture you have wanted to do for years. You could clean out your old clothes, do the spring cleaning, or clear out your garage. There are hundreds of things you could do that, before this global pandemic, you always complained you had no time for. Now you do have time.

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Busying yourself with these tasks turns any bad situation into an opportunity, and time will no longer seem such a drudge; instead, it will feel like a godsend.

Key Takeaways

There are many inevitabilities in life. One of those inevitabilities is that you will have bad times. Dwelling on your lousy situation, complaining, and reliving the experience over and over will only cause time to slow down perceptually.

Accepting the inevitable, approaching it with a “cest la vie” mindset. and looking for the positives will soon pull you away from the difficult times and back to more fertile areas where you can thrive and grow, and time will begin to feel much faster.

More to Make Hard Times Go By Easier

Featured photo credit: Johnny Cohen via unsplash.com

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