Elon Musk Reddit AMA – Importance of Learning to Learn


“If you're going through hell, keep going.” [Winston Churchill]

Inventor, engineer, explorer, product architect, and more. No matter how you define him, Elon Musk is a creator. Most recently in the news for his CEO/CTO role in a rocket company — see the Reddit AMA [h/t Matt Mullenweg].

I've long maintained that learning to learn is a most valuable skill, this part of the AMA caught my attention:


tl;dr: How do you learn so much so fast? Lots of people read books and talk to other smart people, but you've taken it to a whole new level.

It seems you have an extremely proficient understanding of aerospace engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, software engineering, all various subdisciplines (avionics, power electronics, structural engineering, propulsion, energy storage, AI) ETC ETC nearly all things technical.

I know you've read a lot of books and you hire a lot of smart people and soak up what they know, but you have to acknowledge you seem to have found a way to pack more knowledge into your head than nearly anyone else alive. Do you have any advice on learning? How are you so good at it?


I do kinda feel like my head is full! My context switching penalty is high and my process isolation is not what it used to be.

Frankly, though, I think most people can learn a lot more than they think they can. They sell themselves short without trying.

One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree — make sure you understand the fundamental principles, ie the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.

The fundamental principles being the anchors. Further down in the conversation, when asked about keeping the interest of students as a teacher he speaks to the human desire to learn and of story as the vehicle to engage:


I’m a teacher, and I always wonder what I can do to help my students achieve big things. What’s something your teachers did for you while you were in school that helped to encourage your ideas and thinking? Or, if they didn't, what's something they could have done better? thanks!


The best teacher I ever had was my elementary school principal. Our math teacher quit for some reason and he decided to sub in himself for math and accelerate the syllabus by a year.

We had to work like the house was on fire for the first half of the lesson and do extra homework, but then we got to hear stories of when he was a soldier in WWII. If you didn't do the work, you didn't get to hear the stories. Everybody did the work.

The whole conversation is worth reading. Elon Musk's biggest contribution to the future will likely be in the form of energy. What will a Tesla home battery# look like?


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