Lessons from Elon Musk: 4 Proven Traits of Successful People

I love reading biographies. I believe it’s a good way to learn about life. The biography that I read recently is Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance. It’s a well-written book about an interesting man.

Elon Musk runs two innovative companies: SpaceX (a space company that sends satellites to orbit) and Tesla (a car company that produces electric cars). He is also the chairman of SolarCity (a solar-cell company). If you have watched the movie Iron Man, you might be familiar with the character Tony Stark. Well, Musk is probably the closest real-life person to Tony Stark. In fact, Robert Downey Jr. once met him for inspiration for his role in the first Iron Man movie.

To be clear, there are many things not to learn from Musk. For instance, I don’t think he lives a balanced life. That’s a big downside. But we all have an upside and downside, so here I will just focus on the upside—on the things that we can learn from him.

Here are four proven traits of successful people that I learned from Elon Musk:

1. Curiosity

As a child, Musk read a lot. In fact, when he was in the third or fourth grade, he run out of books to read from the library! As a result, he began reading the Encyclopedia Britannica. Yes, he actually read those multi-volume encyclopedias!

As an adult, after he became a millionaire, he revisited his childhood dreams of rockets and space. He wanted to start a space company, so he decided to learn all he could about rockets. At a company party, he even brought and read a Soviet rocket manual.

That might be a bit extreme, but these stories show a quality that Musk has: curiosity.

Curiosity seems to be a common characteristic of successful people. These people want to explore the world to the fullest, so they aren’t satisfied with what they find around them. Their curiosity opens many doors of opportunities for them.

2. Determination

Another quality that Musk has is determination. At his first start-up, they built a primitive version of Google Maps for businesses. It was 1995 and the Internet was still new to the public then, so it was difficult for them to sell the benefits of their product to companies. They had to sell their product door to door, and for a long time they couldn’t get a single sale.

Many people would have given up in such a situation, but not Musk and his colleagues. They kept at it because they believed in the idea. They didn’t just keep at it though—they listened to feedback and kept improving their product.

Eventually they got their first sale and the ball started rolling. Four years later, the company was sold for $350 million dollars!

Paul Graham said in an essay that the most important characteristic for a successful startup founder is determination. I believe this applies to other fields as well.

To have determination, you must first believe in your idea. You must have a strong why.

3. Intensity

Another trait that Musk has is intensity. When he does something, he is intense. He once stayed working for forty-eight hours straight to get a job done.

Be careful though: you still need to keep your life balanced. I don’t believe in blind intensity. Be intense, but stay balanced.

4. Boldness

This could be the differentiating trait that Musk has compared to other entrepreneurs. Many others have the three traits above, but only a few have this one.

Musk dares to dream big and he is serious about it. He finds a way to make the seemingly impossible happen. That’s how he ended up with a space company and an electric car company.

His dream is nothing less than making a human colony on Mars. This may sound like science fiction for most people, but for Musk this is a real goal. He has rallied all his effort around this vision.

It’s not easy to dream big, but that’s what you should do. Dream big, and make it happen.