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If you’ve ever sold a company for a billion point five dollars, there’s a strong liklihood you’ll use that money to buy a 20,000 sq ft Bel Air estate, pursue your childhood interest or both. There’s also a liklihood you’re Elon Musk. Wired’s Chris Anderson beat us to an interview with Elon Musk, where he breaks down the reason for his pursuit and why he doesn’t believe in process.

Building Rockets

You know SpaceX is Elon’s passionate pursuit born out of building rockets as a child in South Africa and a conversation with a fellow entrepreneur, while stuck in traffic, after selling PayPal for $1.5 Billion. You also know SpaceX has successfully launched rockets and is preparing many others, as well as manned missions. (You can see it all on their launch manifest.) But, what else are they working on? You’ll want to skip to the end of the article to find out, a Falcon 9 with landing gear capable of taking off and landing vertically on its own feet is in the future. As Chris Anderson put it, holy sh*t.

We’ve begun testing reusability with something called the Grasshopper Project… The stages go to orbit, then the first stage turns around, restarts the engines, boosts back to the launch site, reorients, deploys landing gear, and lands vertically.

There’s more goodness. Musk doesn’t think to much of process. In reference to competing on price, removing inefficiencies and improving technology, ANderson asks…

Anderson: So—how do you do it? What’s your process?

Musk: Now I have to tell you something, and I mean this in the best and most inoffensive way possible: I don’t believe in process. In fact, when I interview a potential employee and he or she says that “it’s all about the process,” I see that as a bad sign.

Anderson: Oh no. I’m fired.

Musk: The problem is that at a lot of big companies, process becomes a substitute for thinking. You’re encouraged to behave like a little gear in a complex machine. Frankly, it allows you to keep people who aren’t that smart, who aren’t that creative.

As I was telling someone over email, I love his points on ‘process’ – I would think he’s referring more to a delegated plan for a specific action or task, boxing in the person and their creativity and stifling their ability to solve a problem. The design of a spacecraft has a process though. It may not be the same each time or lined out, but it starts and ends somewhere. Everything has a process. True, it’s not all about the process, but is all about 1) launching rockets and 2) the people, with their creativity and talent, working together to launch rockets.

Oh, and I also love what he mentions directly after about patents…

We have essentially no patents in SpaceX. Our primary long-term competition is in China—if we published patents, it would be farcical, because the Chinese would just use them as a recipe book.

How are they protecting their interests? Innovating. Doing it how nobody else has thought to do it and at the same time, doing it much cheaper.

Photo: Art Streiber
Source: Wired

Filed under: DESIGN

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  • Andrew Leong

    Thanks for writing and sharing this, Josh. I thoroughly enjoyed it especially as a big fan of Elon. I agree with you, everything we do is a process, so I’m thinking Elon probably means a standard way of working. However, in many cases a standard way of working is very beneficial. Customers can get very unhappy if every experience they have with a company is different. Imagine if your returns policy meant some customers got their money back in 2 days while others got theirs back in 3 months, you’d have to take on more staff just to handle complaints. There’s a place for creativity and a place for standardisation and a company needs both.

    Andrew Leong

  • Josh M

    Good points, Andrew. I think you’re right – a standard way of working is that replacement for thinking, for many “Give me a how to manual and I’ll get to work.” I wouldn’t want an employee that’s ready to start straight from a manual, but ready to learn and find ways to make things better.

  • Andrew Leong

    Just out of interested, I did a quick LinkedIn search of some people who worked at Telsa, and many of them had Lean Six Sigma qualifications. I don’t think it would be possible to work in an automotive manufacturing plant and not think in terms of processes : )

    Andrew Leong

  • Josh M

    Ha! You can’t get much more process oriented than that!