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The Productivity Rules of Elon Musk

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As a culture, we’re pretty obsessed with wildly successful people. We love athletes and entertainers and business leaders. To some degree this makes sense: they are really good at what they do.

The Olympic sprinters are dramatically faster than the average person. A “healthy” adult can run about 10 miles per hour. But Usain Bolt tops out at 27.8 miles per hour. Likewise, it’s easy to acknowledge that the concert we give while singing in the shower is pathetic compared to the top pop stars and opera singers.

So, what about business icon and famed productivity superstar, Elon Musk?

Elon Musk

© Flickr user OnInnovation.

A piece from CNBC outlines six rules from Musk. Though to be fair, these really come from a larger internal memo that was published by the website electrek. Here is the list:

– Excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time. Please get of all large meetings, unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience, in which case keep them very short.

– Also get rid of frequent meetings, unless you are dealing with an extremely urgent matter. Meeting frequency should drop rapidly once the urgent matter is resolved.

– Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.

– Don’t use acronyms or nonsense words for objects, software or processes at Tesla. In general, anything that requires an explanation inhibits communication. We don’t want people to have to memorize a glossary just to function at Tesla.

– Communication should travel via the shortest path necessary to get the job done, not through the “chain of command”. Any manager who attempts to enforce chain of command communication will soon find themselves working elsewhere.

– A major source of issues is poor communication between depts. The way to solve this is allow free flow of information between all levels. If, in order to get something done between depts, an individual contributor has to talk to their manager, who talks to a director, who talks to a VP, who talks to another VP, who talks to a director, who talks to a manager, who talks to someone doing the actual work, then super dumb things will happen. It must be ok for people to talk directly and just make the right thing happen.

– In general, always pick common sense as your guide. If following a “company rule” is obviously ridiculous in a particular situation, such that it would make for a great Dilbert cartoon, then the rule should change.

These directives are less about productivity and more about culture. Yes, meetings are typically a waste of time, but that’s because they are so often poorly planned and poorly run. Likewise, walking out of a meeting because you aren’t adding value would be considered rude in many organizations. But it should never be rude to have a private conversation with team members about who to include in which meetings.

Musk also complains about communication. Sure, jargon is often annoying. But do you really want to say “automated teller machine” instead of ATM or “the audio coding format formalized by the Motion Picture Experts Group as Audio Layer III” instead of MP3? And it’s true that you should talk directly to the people who need the information, and not feel the need to go through the “chain of command.” But that doesn’t sound like a communication problem as much as a “chain of command” problem.

As Indianapolis marketing expert and small business leader Lorraine Ball wrote in a past blog post, culture is about what you really value as an organization.

In short, these aren’t really productivity rules at all. They are a message from Elon Musk about what he values. And if you value them too, perhaps you should work for Tesla—or adopt these own ideas in your organization.

Culture makes the difference.

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
Robby Slaughter


Troublemaker and productivity/workflow expert. Slightly more complex than 140 characters will permit.
@lorraineball First probably depends on the business. But second is likely training, especially with regard to sales. - 3 days ago
Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter

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