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Successful entrepreneurs are successful because they have the ability to approach the world in ways that seem foreign to everyone else.  Howard Schultz said, Risk more than others think is safe. Dream more than others think is practical.  

Widely admired entrepreneur, Elon Musk, is a leader that has had the uncanny ability to touch that superhero scale.  Although there are a lot of factors that helped to propel his success, his entrepreneurial characteristics played an even larger role in his success, most of which were behavioral choices that were well within his control.

So what are those elements of his secret sauce?


As a child in Africa, he read about the United States in comic books and set his mind on coming. In college, he became convinced there were three areas that would most change the future of the world for good: the Internet, sustainable energy, and the ability to live outside our planet.  He has stayed true to these dreams.


When you’re disrupting systems, building new infrastructure is a painful process of two steps forward, one stumble back. For example, this video captures four years of exhilarating take offs and brutal crashes of SpaceX’s Falcon 9.


Musk exercises persistent in more mundane matters as well. For example, in February of this year, after more than a decade, he finally got the domain. Before this year, his car company had to park at

Systems disruption

When Musk first practiced his entrepreneurship, his explorations were less spectacular than space flight disruption. In fact, his first few businesses were a lot like other businesses: a computer game, a nightclub, and an online tourism guide. The sale of that guide, Zip2,  provided him his first significant capital, which he invested the very next month into the company that became Paypal.

Since then, he’s always targeted disrupting systems instead of innovating incrementally. In other words, Musk would be more likely to invent communications implants that replace smartphones (systemic) than to build an app (incremental).

Here’s a clip of him explaining his process for choosing to disrupt a system:

(When he’s done with his Mars mission, I suspect he will have  disrupted how we see humanity.)


The fourth behavior trait you’ll see again and again in Musk is his depth of commitment. A widely cited example of this is his compensation plan at Tesla, which eschews most salary and all cash bonuses, and pays Musk in stock options that vest only as Tesla meets operational goals set by the board.

You can also see commitment in how Musk handles the backlash. Consider the past hullabaloo over Tesla fires. While Musk was quite confidence in Tesla’s safety in a blog post he wrote about Tesla safety, he took action anyway and amended the Tesla warranty to cover fire damage even if it were caused by driver error.

Think about it–what would change in your life if you followed your imagination, stayed persistent with it, were willing to take on systems in your way, and showed full commitment to your dreams?

Originally published in Lisa’s column in Inc. Magazine.