Sep 3, 2023

Why Elon Musk is successful...

Yes, one wonders. Successful? Isn't he one of the most despised men on the planet? Overpaying for Twitter big time, then destroying employment of so many happy home workers, then alienating all these nice corporations with his irresponsible talk about free speech and destroying Twitter's irreplaceable ad revenues---then/so bringing the company to the brink, where it now lingers since a year---wasn't Twitter to go down, down, down at least since September '22. or October, or January '23...

The Burning Man Festival, when Musk attended irresponsibly


...Elon Musk. The richest man of the world (when TSLA is up). What a shame! Even Paul Krugman hates him. And yesterday it transpired that Musk did participate in the Burning Man Festival in Nevada a few years ago, which is now flooded, the festival, flooded, which must be surely his fault.

OK. Here's a relatively short article grabbed from the internet (we lost the source), which explains why Musk (Paypal, OpenAI, SpaceX, Tesla, etc) is so successful. The piece talks about SpaceX only, but it's easily generalized to his other companies:

SpaceX has no superior engineering access or smarter people than their competition. What they do have is a management structure that not only allows innovation and risk taking, but actively encourages it.
Elon Musk is plain when he states that the penalty for trying something innovative and failing is low, but the penalty for requiring a new solution and not being innovative is high (usually resulting in job loss for the individual concerned). In combination with this top driven philosophy, SpaceX designs systems like a tech company would design new software.
Traditional aerospace companies are risk adverse, and will only reveal a new product when they are very sure that the design is finalised and has all the bugs ironed out. They will spend a huge amount of time designing and redesigning each component with reliability being paramount, and each department is secluded within their own management structure. Design changes that affect another departments work are very difficult to get approved, and anyone who wants to make a significant change has an uphill battle on their hands to get upper management to authorise what may be a risky change.
SpaceX on the other hand is famous for making huge pivots and design changes at the drop of a hat. Look no further than the decision to build the Starship out of stainless steel when at the time everything was focused on carbon fibre, even to the point where major components were being constructed and tested, and the company was actively recruiting carbon fibre specialists. When Musk was convinced of the advantages of the change, he immediately convinced everyone else, then made it happen at a startling pace.

SpaceX is also famous for adopting the “nimble” design approach, where the philosophy is that you don’t know what the final product will look like, (other than the design goals) so you don’t waste time meticulously designing a component that won’t be required until the final stages of development. This frees up people to focus on the immediate issues that need to be addressed, and the system is evolved over time in a very organic like process.
Finally, Musk has adopted the “KISS” principle (keep it simple, stupid). He has repeatedly said that the best design is no design, the best component is no component. By this he means that if something is not an essential requirement for the system to work, then it shouldn’t be there. This means that the ultimate product is more reliant on good design than sheer complexity, which can bog down a project.
In a recent interview with Tim Dodd, Elon Musk explained a 5 step process that he uses to speed up development work which runs something like this;
(1). Break down your requirements into steps and simplify them (Musk used the term “make them less dumb”)
(2). Attach the responsibility for developing these requirements to a single individual, not a department. This means that you cannot pass responsibility off for lack of results. The individual must then question the validity of the requirements in order to act as a second level of design filtering (everybody makes mistakes at some point, and no specification can be considered unquestionable).
(3). Delete any non-essential parts or processes, then reassess the system to see what changes might need to be made.
(4). Accelerate the cycle time, but not before applying the first 3 steps.
(5). Automate the process.
These principles have resulted in the construction of a large amount of cheaply made and simple prototypes that were literally built to be destroyed. Each RUD was a wealth of information that directly influenced the next test article until the issue at hand was resolved, and everyone moved on to the next stage to be worked on. Nobody wastes time on wondering “what if we have issues with XYZ in the future?”, when it’s much faster to simply build the XYZ and test it in real life operation. This approach rapidly weeds out the design dead ends that can be money pits and cause cost over runs.
Thus we have seen the Starship change from the ITS of 2016, through to the current design which is still very much a work in progress, and even at this late point is still getting major changes to the aerodynamic surfaces.
What design changes has the New Glenn undergone? No doubt there have been some changes behind the rather secretive walls of Blue Origin in the 9 years that it has been worked on, but since the first public announcement of 2016, there has been no changes until the latest announcement of “Project Jarvis”, which is aimed purely at the upper stage of the system and is a blatant copy of what SpaceX has already done.
Blue Origin under Jeff Bezos seems to be more concerned with fitting in with the established industry, building alliances and acquiring political influence. SpaceX on the other hand has very deliberately gone in the opposite direction, relying on vertical integration when outside suppliers were shown to be unreliable.
It would appear that self reliance and a willingness to fail openly is a winning tactic.

Flooded, the festival, yes, flooded:


That was it. Love You.




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