One of the core values of our team is: we face and solve brutal realities.
Another on of our values is: we ask why.
Recently, at a team retreat, we read and discussed Musk’s biography. It is well worth reading.
In reading the book – and reflecting on our values – I was struck by how Musk differs from many environmentalists.
Facing the Brutal Reality of Climate Change
Both Musk and the environmentalists care about the future of humanity.
Both Musk and environmentalists believe that humanity is at-risk due to human induced climate change.
In this sense: each has faced the brutal reality of the dangers of climate change.
Because of this brutal reality, environmentalists are doing important policy and conservation work.
Because of this brutal reality, Musk launched Solar City and Tesla.
Facing the Brutal Reality of Single Planetary Existence
But Musk, in considering the threat of environmental disaster, did not stop asking “why” when it comes to the risk of human extinction.
Rather than being satisfied with the (true) morality tale of humans destroying the planet; he kept on asking why humans were so exposed to environmental collapse on Earth in the first place.
The answer is of course obvious: Earth is the only planet we live on. As it goes, so do we.
In terms of human continuity, it is very fragile to only live on one planet. Ultimately, even natural environmental shifts (volcano explosion, meteor, etc.) can destroy humanity. Musk realized this was a major problem that many environmentalists did not seem to be working on.
Yes, slowing human made climate change is important, but it is only a stop-gap solution. Leaving Earth is the more sustainable solution.
Completing this logic pathway (of asking why humanity is truly at risk) only requires the knowledge one might pick up in high school.
Ultimately, getting down to the root solutions is as much as about mental habits as it is about knowledge: facing brutal realities, continuing to ask “why,” having the boldness of vision to put forth a solution – this is what is needed…. as well as having the operational capacity to make a good attempt to realize this vision.
It is rare that all these qualities sit in one person. This is what makes Musk so special.
And it is why we have Space X.
I’d like to think that some of our greatest successes in New Orleans were because we faced brutal realities and we asked “why” a lot.
Some of our biggest failures likely came from a failure to live out these two values.
When it comes to facing brutal realities, I find the following to be of use: soberly analyzing existing performance data; reading the criticisms of thoughtful people in other tribes; taking the time to quantitatively role forward your expected impact over 10-20 years.
When it comes to asking “why,” I find the following to be useful: sitting on potential solutions before acting on them; setting-up a culture and process for rigorous team questioning; having a board of directors that constantly questions your work; reading broadly to build-up false solution pattern recognition.