Elon Musk: Taking Risks and Changing the Status Quo

By Darlene Menzies, CEO Finfind

I just listened to a thought-provoking and encouraging interview with Elon Musk. Short video clips are my favourite way of consuming information.

I’m sure there are differing views about Elon, there usually are when it comes to pioneers, disruptors, radical thinkers, paradigm shifters, revolutionaries – those who challenge and change the status quo.

Whatever your view is, whether positive or negative, well-informed or otherwise, one thing is undisputed – he is insanely courageous. What he has already achieved, is currently achieving and will still achieve, is not only history-making, which is noteworthy, but far more importantly, it is radically future altering.

He is dreaming of and risking everything to create solutions that are positively impacting and changing life as we know it and shaping the universe our children’s children will experience. He is living a profoundly meaningful life.

In the interview, Elon Musk speaks about four necessary components of authentic disruptors – the pioneers who conceptualise, develop and scale ground-breaking, world-changing solutions. 

  1. They are fully committed

Elon still does all-nighters. For him, hard work and long hours are par for the course as an innovator spearheading and scaling Tesla. The extra hours are necessary, it’s that simple…they pay off. If you were born to change the world, you will find that this pace is very sustainable, even if others tell you differently. 

  1.   Great individuals build great teams

Great individuals don’t build great businesses, great teams do. When it comes to choosing his team, Elon goes with his gut. In interviews he asks people to tell them his story of your life, asks about the decisions they made along the way and why they made them. Musk  asks about their most difficult problems they’ve had to deal with/have worked on, and how they solved them.

He says people who really solve problems know exactly how they did it and can tell you the minute details, the pretenders can only cite first level facts. Don’t make building your business the focus…focus on building your team, your team will build your business. 

  1. They know how to survive hardship

Elon says you need a really high pain threshold. What is your pain threshold? What can you endure in terms of sacrifice? Can you go regularly without sleep, move from a condo to a shoebox, downsize your car, sacrifice a social life, sacrifice all your time, all your money, your family’s money…. how strong are your friendships and family relationships? Can you endure the continual pressure, the declines and rejections, ridicule and accusations and the gut wrenching disappointments?

Elon Musk describes how Tesla almost went bankrupt – he had invested all of his own money in it, after initially only setting aside half his PayPal pay-out, he eventually put it all in. He was at the point of borrowing money to pay his own rent. They were inches from business closure when they finally managed to close their big financing round…it happened at 6pm on Christmas Eve 2008, it was the last hour of the last day that it was possible to save the business.

Ask yourself how much hardship can you endure? It takes massive courage, deep conviction, solid character, gutsy perseverance and nerves of steel to be able to keep going and hold on for that kind of eleventh hour breakthrough.

  1.   Innovators need huge emotional endurance; the demands are incomprehensible

Innovators carry a tremendous responsibility and expectation weight. It is typically the cost or toll that is least considered upfront. It’s one thing risking your own money for something you fully believe in, it’s another to risk other people’s money.

No matter how good something looks, how certain success seems, it’s always a risk until it happens, until it takes off. It is an exceptionally tough, vulnerable and emotionally demanding journey from the time you receive financial investment (which is based on future potential that you have convinced the investors of), until the time you actually deliver on that potential…and while you may build as a team, the make or break decisions are largely yours. This part of the zero to hero fairy-tale is the least spoken about and in most cases, is by far the costliest – the journey is emotionally very draining and for the most part quite terrifying. It is also exceptionally lonely. It’s not for the faint-hearted.

“You have to be all in” – Darlene Menzies


My bottom line take-out is that you have to be all in, completely sold out. It will cost you everything, much more than you could ever have imagined up front…but the return will be far greater than you could ever have dreamed possible. They say the difference between genius and insanity is success.

Before you achieve success, everyone says you’re completely insane. The minute you shoot the lights out, the very same people say you’re a genius. Nothing has changed for you, you’re still the same person, with the same dream, doing the same thing you were doing the day before you crossed that line.

What HAS changed is that the thing that has always been very real and believable in your mind’s eye, but has been invisible or unbelievable to others, has now simply become a reality.