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Elon Musk's Design Process Starts With Making Things 'Less Dumb'

Elon Musk breaks down his design and manufacturing process from SpaceX's Starbase facility in Texas.

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own. This article was updated on August 13, 2021

Twitter user Trung Phan analyzed a two-hour video featuring Elon Musk giving a tour of the Starbase facility in Texas, where SpaceX is building Starship, the tallest rocket in history.

In the course of the video, Musk breaks down a five-step process he says he follows when commencing on design and manufacturing. As with most things he does, his advice is not something you will read in any business school textbook.

Here are five steps, as organized and transcribed by Trung Phan, and edited here for length and clarity:

1. Make the requirement less dumb

"The requirements are definitely dumb; it does not matter who gave them to you. It's particularly dangerous when they come from an intelligent person, as you may not question them enough. Everyone's wrong. No matter who you are, everyone is wrong some of the time. All designs are wrong, it's just a matter of how wrong."

Related: Elon Musk Eclipsed Second-Highest-Paid CEO in 2020 Earnings

2. Try to delete part of the process

"If parts are not being added back into the design at least 10% of the time, [it means that] not enough parts are being deleted. The bias tends to be very strongly toward 'let's add this part or process step in case we need it."

3. Simplify or optimize

"The reason this is the third step and not the first step is because the most common error of a smart engineer is to optimize something that should simply not exist...You have to ask the question [whether something should exist.] So everyone's basically, without knowing it, they got like a mental straight jacket on. They'll work on optimizing the thing that simply should not exist."

4. Accelerate cycle time

"You're moving too slowly, go faster! But don't go faster until you've worked on the other three things first...Because if you are digging your grave, you don't want to dig faster. You want to stop digging your grave."

Related: Elon Musk's Tesla Delays the Long-Awaited Cybertruck Until 2022

5. Automate

"Then the final step is: automate it. Now, I have personally made the mistake of going backward on all five steps multiple times. On the [Tesla] Model 3, I automated, simplified and then deleted."

Watch an edited video of Musk breaking down these steps here.