3 Mindsets Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos Have in Common
Fearless to dream big, laser-focused on the now
When people talk about Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, they often put them against each other in some (stupid) competition. Who’s richer, smarter, funnier?
Sure, those comparisons can be hella entertaining but they miss the point.
The duo has strikingly similar ways of approaching problems and making decisions, meaning there’s a pattern we can steal and replicate. Here it is.
Musk and Bezos think like they cook
Have you heard of First Principles Thinking? It may sound intimidating but it’s just a fancy way to say “think like you cook.”
The idea is to break a concept down to its fundamental ingredients then reassemble them from the ground up — which is exactly what you do when preparing a meal.
- You first examine the recipe, either inside your memory or on your favorite kitchen blog.
- Then, you grab the ingredients. You open the fridge or hit the grocery store.
- Finally, you assemble those ingredients following precise instructions — and voilà. Bon appétit.
Now here’s the interesting part. There are two actually:
Primo, experienced cooks often tweak the original recipe out of necessity or convenience. For instance, when you invite a vegan friend to dinner, you replace the meat in your lasagna with a soy mixture. Also hey, maybe you don’t have enough apples to make a pie. Wait a minute, you still have a box of blueberries in your fridge, right? Change of plans but there will still be a pie.
Secundo, amateur chefs save a lot of money compared to those who never cook. All it takes is a few calculations to realize that preparing your own food costs three to four times less than eating in a decent restaurant.
Okay cool, Nabil. But what does this have to do with First Principles?
The same approach you use in your kitchen helps Elon Musk solve his most complicated problems. In fact, he used it to build rockets with extremely limited costs compared to market prices.
Here’s how he described it:
I tend to approach things from a physics framework. And physics teaches you to reason from first principles rather than by analogy.
So I said, OK, let’s look at the first principles. What is a rocket made of? [Recipe]
Aerospace-grade aluminum alloys, plus some titanium, copper, and carbon fiber. And then I asked, what is the value of those materials on the commodity market? [Ingredients and cost reduction]
It turned out that the materials cost of a rocket was around 2 percent of the typical price — which is a crazy ratio for a large mechanical product.
Wait, there’s more.
Another powerful feat of using First Principles Thinking in business is quality enhancement.
Keeping the kitchen metaphor, the better quality your ingredients are, the better your dish will taste. Bezos uses the same logic to constantly improve Amazon.
I very frequently get the question: “What’s going to change in the next 10 years?” I almost never get the question: “What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?” [Recipe]
It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, “Jeff, I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher.” “I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.” Impossible. [Main ingredients]
And so the effort we put into those things, spinning those things up, we know the energy we put into it today will still be paying off dividends for our customers 10 years from now.
Okay, let’s take a step back and recap what we learned.
When you’re about to start a project or improve an existing product, you want to approach the task as it was a meal you’re about to cook.
Ask yourself these three questions:
- What are the ingredients for this project? Make a list and separate it into main and secondary elements.
- How can I enhance the main ingredients? Double down on the essentials to improve quality and, if possible, reduce the costs by getting better deals for raw materials.
- What secondary ingredients can I replace or add? Tinker and innovate.
And remember, the best way to practice First Principles Thinking is to spend more time in your kitchen.
They set possible goals to get closer to impossible ones
In a 2000 interview, Charlie Rose asked Jeff Bezos a simple question. “If you weren’t CEO of Amazon.com,” he said. “What would you like to do or be?”
Bezos’ answer came out immediately. “If I could do anything — and it turns out that this is a very hard technical problem, so I don’t actually hold out great hopes — but if I could do anything, I would like to go help explore space.”
Fast forward to 2021, Bezos stepped into a rocket ship and off to the sky he went. One way to see Bezos’ journey is that he built Amazon into this colossal ultra-profitable business so he could overcome the “technical problem” and reach his ultimate goal.
When you look at Musk’s career, you notice the same pattern. He started with software companies, one of which became PayPal. When PayPal was sold, he acquired $180M and invested all of it into new projects — $100M went into SpaceX, $70M into Tesla, and the remaining $10M funded SolarCity.
He used his biggest paycheck to fuel his long-term vision, which includes sustainable energy and space exploration. From there, he dedicated most of his waking time to his companies, and the rest, as they say, is history.
“I think fundamentally the future is vastly more exciting and interesting if we’re a spacefaring civilization and a multiplanet species than if we’re or not,” he said in an interview. “ You want to be inspired by things. You want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great.”
Both Musk and Bezos have near-impossible goals that take decades to come to fruition. In the meantime, they put all their energy into what’s in front of them. Everything they do is meant to bring them closer to the stars — and that’s a pattern worth stealing.
Dream big but set smaller goals and give them all you’ve got. If your short-term projects succeed, they’ll get you one step closer to your long-term vision. If they fail, the experience will make you smarter.
It’s always “Day One” for them
“Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death,” Bezos wrote. “And that is why it is always Day 1.”
Day 2 doesn’t happen overnight though. Rather, it’s a slow burn that spreads over years and sometimes decades. That’s why it’s important to continually seek improvement and question the way you currently do business.
In this regard, Musk suggests you adopt a particular mindset. “You should take the approach that you’re wrong,” he said. “Your goal is to be less wrong.”
This sounds easy but it’s not. Your ego will always get in the way. Here are a few tips that help you adopt a day-one mindset:
- Talk to people who disagree with you and actually listen to what they have to say and read content that contradicts your personal opinions.
- Seek knowledge in books and podcasts then apply it. This will inspire you to step outside your comfort zone and try new things.
- Be open about your mistakes. Make a habit of carrying out postmortem (after death) analyses on the decisions that didn’t work.
Thieves are smarter than worshippers
Bezos and Musk are brilliant in many aspects. But they’re absolute scumbags in others. The former is a tyrant who mistreats his employees and keeps cheating the system. The latter thinks everything is a game including the financial lives of his social media followers.
They’re not to be worshipped. They’re to be robbed. Steal their techniques, apply them to your business, and discard the rest.
- Think like you cook. Break down every idea to its main components and build it back up with improvements and cost reductions.
- Set a long-term vision but focus on smaller goals. Channel your energy into what’s in front of you but never forget your True North.
- Adopt a beginner’s mindset. Seek more knowledge and try new ideas. More important, question everything, including this article.
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Business | Psychology | Marketing — What's your favorite quote? Mine is "True masters are eternal students."