The 6 Simple Steps Elon Musk Uses to Solve Any Problem

You learned these steps in elementary school, but do you ever actually use them?
The 6 Simple Steps Elon Musk Uses to Solve Any Problem
Image credit: Ramin Talaie | Getty Images

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Entrepreneur Staff
Associate Editor, Contributed Content
4 min read

There were all sorts of fascinating tidbits in Neil Strauss's fantastic Rolling Stone feature on Elon Musk -- hints about the Tesla Truck, the man behind the genius and more.

But for an entrepreneur looking to emulate Musk's success, perhaps the most important part of the piece was something that isn't new at all. In fact, it's been around for centuries and you've probably known about it since elementary school.

It's the scientific method.

However, Musk says the scientific method is too rarely used by business leaders. These entrepreneurs think about what their competitors are doing or what they wish were true, when they should be following a standardized process to learn if it actually is true.

Start the slideshow to learn the six-step scientific method as defined by Elon Musk.

Related: 23 Weird Things We've Learned About Elon Musk

Ask a question.

When you’re faced with a problem, don’t skip to an answer right away. Start instead by asking an interesting question, preferably that hasn't been done before.

For example, when making the Tesla Truck, Musk used something called first principles thinking, which examines the foundations of a thing without making assumptions. This helped him focus on the most important aspects of a good truck -- not to just make a better truck than his competitors, but to make the best possible truck he can.

Look at the difference between these two questions:

  1. How can I improve on trucks?

  2. What are the necessary components of a good truck?

Musk thinks in the latter terms, which allows him to work from a clean slate and make something new.

Related: 5 Creative Interview Questions to Ask Job Applicants, Approved by Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Reid Hoffman

Gather as much evidence as possible about it.

No, the second step isn’t developing a hypothesis. Instead, this is the research phase. For scientists, this could mean conducting an experiment. But for entrepreneurs, it could mean interviewing experts, digging into literature on the subject or even working in a certain industry.

Often, it means getting your hands dirty -- sometimes even literally. In the Rolling Stone feature, Strauss recounts a story of when Musk had his staff dig the first hole for the Boring Company tunnel in the company parking lot. That way, he could understand exactly how far he could dig in a given amount of time and project how a bigger project would take.

Related: A Look at the Demanding Schedule of Elon Musk, Who Works in 5-Minute Slots, Skips Breakfast and Avoids Emails

Develop hypotheses based on the evidence.

Then, try to assign a probability of truth to each hypothesis. Many people consider every probability as either 50-50 or one-in-a-million. You, on the other hand, should be nuanced about the way you consider the likelihood of each axiom (a statement that might be true, but does not yet have evidence), or else you might end up falling back into the same old habits as before.

Draw a conclusion.

According to Musk, this conclusion should be "based on cogency in order to determine: Are these axioms correct, are they relevant, do they necessarily lead to this conclusion and with what probability?"

Basically, how confident can you be that the evidence you have points to the conclusion you have made?

Related: What Elon Musk's Ultra-Cool James Bond Car Says About Achieving Entrepreneurial Greatness


Attempt to disprove the conclusion.

Have others try to break your conclusion, too

Even if you have enough evidence to feel comfortable in your conclusion, you should still seek others' advice. Otherwise, you could fall into the trap of confirmation bias -- seeking out evidence that proves you are right, rather than evidence that could prove you are wrong -- or other problems.

You will always look at something from a certain point of view, and adding new input will help find whether there are any holes in your axioms.

If nobody can invalidate your conclusion, then you're probably right.

But, you're not certainly right.

That’s an important distinction. New information can always arise, and that evidence could disprove even long-held theories about the world. So, don't dig your heels into a certain line of thinking, because it's likely to change over time.

This goes back to Musk's larger point, which is that business leaders too often act on what they wish would work instead of what actually does.

"It's very unscientific," Musk concludes. "There's this thing called physics, which is this scientific method that's really quite effective for figuring out the truth."

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