Hot Dogs, Rocket Ships, and Elon Musk

What do hot dogs and rocket ships have in common? Nothing without Takeru Kobayashi and Elon Musk. The Elon Musk biography reminded me of “A Better Way to Eat,” a Freakonomics podcast about how Kobayashi revolutionized the sport of competitive eating. Kobayashi attributes his success to ignoring the existing record and conventional way of eating.

Doubt Your Limits

While reading about Elon Musk I was continually struck by a similar theme: ignoring boundaries and limits is key to exceeding them. Like a tight rope walker, he avoids looking down and stays focused on the goal ahead.

During a trip to Moscow in the winter of 2012, Musk and his team received disheartening news that the Russians would not supply rockets to SpaceX at their target price. At one point, one of the Russian’s chief designers actually spat on them. A gesture crossing any language barrier. 

Not long after boarding their plane home, Musk turned to his despondent crew and said “Hey, guys, I think we can build this rocket ourselves.” To their astonishment, he presented them with a spreadsheet detailing his plan, backed by knowledge acquired by veraciously studying the aerospace industry several months prior. Musk took his team from disappointment to game plan before they reached home. His strategy seemed insane, but lo and behold SpaceX is the first private company to reach orbit, doc with the International Space Station, and reinvigorate a nation’s passion for exploring space.

Kobayashi sees the world in a similar way:

I think the thing about human beings is that they make a limit in their mind of what their potential is. They decide, “I’ve been told this,” or “this is what society tells me,” or they’ve been made to believe something. If every human being actually threw away those thoughts and they actually did use that method of thinking [about] everything — the potential of human beings is great, it’s huge, compared to what they actually think of themselves.

Know Your Raison D’êTre

Want to know how Musk inspires people? Clarity. “While the ‘putting man on Mars’ talk can strike some people as loopy, it gave Musk a unique rallying cry for his companies.” His goal is unabashedly turning humans into an interplanetary species. Anyone with similar convictions knows exactly where to look.

Pick Your Passions

While I’m inspired by Musk, I’m also disheartened when I read about innovators who loose relationships with their loved ones because of their endeavors. Balance never seems to be a leading indicator of what makes a successful innovator. I’m continually in pursuit of more balanced individuals making a dent in the universe.

There Is No Growth in Comfort

South Africa was not an easy place to grow up. However, Musk feels his experience was “part of an atypical upbringing—just this insane set of experiences that changes how you view risk.” No one likes suffering, but if you choose to find meaning in it, it certainly eases the pain.

Possibility Thinking

Kobayashi’s ability to look beyond an existing record, and Musk’s ability to look beyond our own atmosphere help us see past our perceived boundaries and limits in order to realize new possibilities.