Ashlee Vance: Elon Musk and The Quest to Save Mankind

Ashlee Vance writes About Elon Musk And The Quest To Save Mankind

Episode 160

He didn’t have permission.

But he did it anyway. And one day Elon Musk called him.

“He was either going to make life really horrible on me or he was going to cooperate with the book” said Ashlee Vance, author of the New York Times bestseller and Wall Street Journal’s “best books of the year,” Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future.

Ashlee did 200 interviews before Elon agreed, proving permission is not a starting place.

I wish I wrote the book. But I didn’t.

My “quest” is different.

Instead, I mastered curiosity.

I called people and recorded. I did a ton of research. I read every book, article, interview and watched every talk. I’ve spent 10,000 hours interviewing and more than 10,000 hours preparing.

I didn’t need permission. And neither do you.

Here are 5 ways to bypass the gatekeepers:

A) Master something

Like anybody, Elon is smart in some things and probably stupid in others. But he mastered his interests.

Mastery is learning 90% of everything you could learn about a subject. You can’t reach 100%. I hope that’s comforting.

Explore your interests. Combine them and you’ll find what works for you. Then improve 1% each day.

Along the way, you’ll master it.

B) Make your own decisions

Elon doesn’t let people make decisions for him. They’ll choose wrong. And he knows it.

If you choose for yourself you will choose yourself.

C) Play for pay

I remember my childhood. Some of it. I read comic books and Dear Abby.

Now, at 47? 48? I search for “superhero” stories.

And I get to be Dear Abby.

“Ask Altucher.”

Every Thursday at 3:30 PM EST, I have a Twitter Q&A.

I answer texts and emails from strangers. 203-512-2161

I answer Quora questions and co-host a podcast with my friend, Stephen Dubner. He wrote the New York Times bestseller, Freakonomics.

I wonder if he read Dear Abby growing up, too. We answer questions with questions.

But before all of this, I worked in finance. I did what “they” wanted me to do. I got lost.

Elon did, too.

“He just got swept up in the internet for a little while,” Ashlee says, “and then once he made a ton of money (from PayPal), the light went on and he just said, ‘Now I can go chase everything I’ve ever wanted to go do.’”

“Elon appears to have some kind of calling to go save humankind,” Ashlee says. “When he was 12, he designed a video game that was exactly that concept.”

But at one point, he changed course. We all do. We forget play.

Now he’s saving humanity.

D) There are always problems

When I interviewed Derek Sivers last week, I said “You can always disappear from your problems.”

And you can.

He did. But then what?

Derek spends a lot time answering emails and giving advice. And Elon is exploring electric vehicles and life in space.

Everyday, I have a choice: find new problems or help others with theirs. Create problems or solve them.

When I help people with their problems, I forget about mine. Sometimes.

Elon sees extreme problems and extreme solutions. All his basics are covered. He’s doesn’t worry about his boss or the mortgage.

“The weird thing to me,” Ashlee says, “was that [when] you started talking [to Elon] about mankind being wiped out, he wells up with emotion.”

Suffering graces all life. There are always problems.

“What I saw with Elon is that he’s very clear-eyed. He meditates on what he thinks is important and has a absolute devotion to pursuing these goals”

“He gives you a sense of urgency in your life. Maybe I’m just getting older,” Ashlee says, “When I finished doing the book, I sat back and I said, ‘I need to be much clearer about exactly what I want to do with my life.’”

I don’t have the same problem as Ashlee or see the same problems as Elon Musk. And I’m grateful.

E) Be on the right side of history

You only have a certain amount of energy each day. Don’t waste it fighting the inevitable.

Going against Elon is the equivalent of going against Steve Jobs these days and you come out looking kind of foolish,” Ashlee says.
Instead, focus on building your idea muscle. Do one thing everyday that makes you physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually healthy.


Elon Musk is changing the state of our future. Of all mankind. Who gave him permission? He did.

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  • in_Dei_servitium

    Do people really buy this nonsense, that Elon Musk is “saving mankind”? He’s attempting to solve engineering problems juat countless others, albeit in very innovative and unusual ways. That qualifies him as the latest in a long line of supremely gifted men throughout history who had a remarkable ability to aolve problems and convert vision into action. But save mankind?

    Ha!

    Long after Musk and his ideas have crumbled into the dust of history mankind will still be enslaved by idolatry, lust, greed, envy, anger, guilt, fear, etc. We may be driving electric cars on Mars but our souls will still be terminally ill. Every generation has a God proxy, who will destroy himself trying to be the saviour we create him to be.

    Musk is certainly making a name for himself and wowing a generation of techno-millennial sycophants, and he may well usher in a new age of something, but the cogs of time will turn another notch and mankind will still find ways to ruin itself.

    Archimedes/Watt/Edison/Musk. Levers, a water pump, a steam engine, a light bulb, AC current, paypal, electric cars and a reusable Mars ship. Is mankind really any better for any of these?

    One look at the idiocrasies around us says mankind is further along the path to ruin than it has ever been.

  • Fabian

    I wish he’d save the planet without using my tax dollars and make money in the process, like Mercedes…. Just my opinion but I’m no genius.

    • javier javier

      At least he’s doing something.. NASA just burn it

  • Virg Lewis

    Everyone has a choice in almost everything they do. Rarely is it do or die. Choosing what is better for us at any given time helps not only us, but those around us. This create a ripple effect. Few people are famous, most of us do the best we can. And that’s good enough.

  • Roddy Pfeiffer

    Musk is a megalomaniac who is the poster boy for corporate welfare. Tesla hasn’t ever made a dime in profit (using GAAP, not Bernie Madoff accounting methods) since they opened in 2003. They company is propped up with tax benefits (taxpayer dollars) and sales of bubble -priced stock to fanboys. His cars use 25 year old Li-Ion technology. Nothing new here. The electricity comes mostly from coal. The cars are not green. They are less energy efficient than than a Prius. Yes, electric motors are efficient. However, the losses between the fuel source (mostly coal) and where the rubber hits the road are huge.Tesla cars are not Green.

    • shawn mcguire

      I think Altucher is not much different.