Elon Musk’s Creativity Technique: The Art of Asking Questions


No matter how hackneyed it may sound, the main trend of modern business is creativity. And the basis of this phenomenon is not the ability to “give out something like that”, but the ability to ask. The ability to ask questions.

Creativity in business is unique in that no one can ignore it, even if the entrepreneur denies any creative thinking in principle. Even the most ordinary business that brings a stable profit is already creative to some extent. After all, this is a sign that the owner of this business keeps abreast of his audience and satisfies their needs, adjusting to them.

Creativity is both loved and hated because it allows you to win, all other things being equal: with the same budget and resources, with the same economic situation, with the same knowledge. But most of all, creativity is adored and despised for the fact that it allows you to win even if everything else is unequal. When some, excuse me, beggar and yesterday’s newspaper salesman, suddenly “blows up” the market with his idea and achieves such success in a month that some companies have achieved for years and even decades. Moreover, for the latter, it is especially disappointing that they had to overcome this path, suffering setbacks and rethinking their experience, choosing new directions and rebuilding, experiencing crises and rejoicing in the growth they suffered “on the bones”.

Invisible part of the creative

Many people wonder why companies with the richest experience suddenly fail and leave the market, while others, not sipping salty, suddenly take the lead. First, it is worth noting here that experience is not such a great thing as it is commonly believed. Surprisingly, it is the positive experience that is especially dangerous. Positive experience makes a person think through the prism of past success and not accept constructive criticism. He begins to think not in current conditions, but in the past. The creative approach to business is lost: resting on our laurels begins, which can ruin everything.

“Surprisingly, it is the positive experience that is especially dangerous. Positive experience makes a person think through the prism of past success and not accept constructive criticism”

Secondly, an experienced business has another significant drawback – it bypasses all sharp corners. Once burned on something, he is unlikely to return to the painful point, each time bypassing it for a kilometer. But reality is like a river. The conditions have been updated, the challenges of the time have been updated, the technologies have been updated. The ability to look at old tasks in a new way is a quality that is not given to everyone, such is human nature. A new business is relieved of this burden, so it sometimes enthusiastically rushes into this very painful point, which, to everyone’s surprise, turns out to be not an embrasure, but a gold mine abandoned by everyone, which was before everyone’s eyes.

You may have heard more than once that in business there are two attitudes to an emerging task or problem: as an obstacle that needs to be overcome, and as a creative challenge that needs to be solved. The conditions, as a rule, are the same for everyone: these are limited resources, lack of personnel, lack of time, clients who want a lot for minimal money. Entrepreneurs who perceive a problem as an obstacle choose two paths: either they step back at the sight of an overhanging hulk, realizing that they are unable to cope with it, or they begin a long and hard struggle and training. They improve their knowledge and skills, train employees, prepare airbags and escape routes in case of failure, and, finally, take or not take the besieged fortress with colossal efforts.

“In business, there are two ways to approach a challenge or problem: as an obstacle to be overcome, and as a creative challenge to be solved.”

The second version of the attitude to the problem is unique. A person proceeds from the fact that to solve the problem he already has all the necessary conditions and he just needs to solve the puzzle that has arisen. Moreover, pay attention to the fact that the essence of solving the problem here is not to search and find a universal pill, as they like to explain the success of any startups in the media, but to use a wide range of methods for solving the problem. If the first entrepreneur “besieges the fortress”, arming the army and navy for a long time, which he sees as the only right decision, then the second entrepreneur thinks something like this.

  • But is it possible to build such a cannon, the nuclei of which will break through the gates of the fortress?
  • Is it possible to poison the water in the stream that flows through the castle grounds?
  • Is there a chance to bribe the guards?
  • etc.

All methods, all information today, thanks to the Internet, already exists, but not everyone knows how to use it. And here it is extremely important not to find the right answers, but to ask the right questions. This is the underwater, invisible part of creativity in business.

Elon Musk’s Creativity Technique

You probably already know him – this is a cult figure of our time, co-founder of Tesla, entrepreneur and billionaire Elon Musk, who is going to colonize Mars and aims to improve the life of mankind. Once, Elon Musk shared the method he uses for his revolutionary breakthroughs and solving business problems.

Elon Musk’s algorithm consists of six steps. They are based on the principle of thinking, which allows you to start everything from scratch. In other words, in order to create an innovation, it is necessary to abandon the ideas, practices and standards that existed before and look at everything with a fresh look. For example, if you want to make a truck, then you need to cross out of your mind all the trucks that exist on the market and take into account only the laws of physics and the fact that you need something that will move the cargo from point A to point B. And everything else will have to be thought about.

This algorithm is suitable not only for businessmen, but also for all creative people who want to start a new stage in their work.

  1. Ask the right question. If you are faced with a challenge, then do not look for obvious solutions. First, formulate a key question that has never been asked, not only by you, but also by other people. It was this principle of thinking that Elon Musk used to create the Tesla Semi Truck. He forced him to focus on a truck that was not only better than the competition, but the best in the world. In other words, when asking the question, Musk changed focus and thought about what makes a good truck and what its components are, and not about how to improve the performance of existing trucks in the market in order to beat other companies.
  2. Collect as much data as possible. This step is about experimenting. There is a survey of experts, the literature is studied, even real experience is gained in this area. An example of this stage is the story of how Elon Musk, while considering the idea of ​​​​creating an underground tunnel for cars, asked his employees to clear the parking lot at the office and began to dig a hole to find out how long it might take him to build a tunnel.
  3. Develop hypotheses. After collecting data, hypotheses are formulated. Moreover, not one, but a whole series, and each hypothesis is assigned a probabilistic characteristic. The probability is carefully calculated, otherwise you can roll back to a zone far from innovation.
  4. Make a conclusion. The fourth step is to look at the hypotheses again and ask specific questions. How correct are they? How relevant are they? Do they necessarily lead to a conclusion and with what probability? How certain can you be of this conclusion?
  5. Try to refute the conclusion. Another wonderful stage that many miss and are afraid of. You need to ask other people to refute the conclusion. It is a rebuttal that can make you feel confident. Again, there are questions to be asked. What is wrong in general? What are the weak points? Why doesn’t the idea work in practice? Etc. If you do not carry out this stage, you can fall into the trap of thinking and take into account only those data that confirm the conclusion and miss those that can leave no stone unturned on it.
  6. You have probably found a solution if your conclusion is not refuted. The key word at this stage is “probably”. Even when developing a new solution, it is necessary to leave room for new information and not take the conclusion as the ultimate truth.

Cons of asking questions

Of course, whether it is Elon Musk’s method, or any other method, it does not guarantee you anything and has its own risks. On the one hand, you must implement ideas with a comprehensive assessment and not impulsively, and on the other hand, you must not go too deep into unnecessary details and analytics, forgetting about everyday tasks. Remember that it is not the biggest and strongest mammoth that survives, but the one who has managed to adapt to the conditions and has learned to act correctly according to the situation. Of course, you need to rely on your own opinion, but do not get hung up on it. You need to be able to listen and hear all opponents.

Another problem in the generation of creative ideas is that any person, whether he is even Elon Musk or someone else even seven spans in his forehead, is in the plane of his experience, in a kind of captivity of his beliefs and opinions. It’s not for nothing that the good old brainstorming in the company of several people is considered one of the best methods for generating ideas. But what if the right team is not at hand or, let’s say, it does not exist, and you are just an individual entrepreneur in one person? After all, not everyone has the same dating resource as leading businessmen.

In our consulting practice, we, the “1000 Ideas” company, have repeatedly encountered situations where people who are looking for ideas for self-development, earning money, starting a business or finding themselves through creativity were strikingly similar to each other. If we talk in relation to the method of Elon Musk, then all of them are already:

  • a) had an impressive number of hypotheses (step 3 according to Elon Musk);
  • b) tried to use the data they had, i.e. their own experience (step 2), to:
  • c) draw a certain conclusion or refute it (step 4 and 5).

But surprisingly, step number one, called “Ask the right question,” was surprisingly ignored. And this concerned not so much the context described in the method, but also the ability to ask questions in general. Surprisingly, we all sometimes focus on the answers so much that we don’t really know our question, we don’t know what goal we are pursuing in a global sense and how to formulate questions for short-term goals. And what do you think, how many answers can be found to a question whose formulation is not clearly defined? And how many hypotheses and conclusions can be made on the basis of such answers?

Problem solving

Seeing the absurdity of the situation and wishing to close this gap in human thinking, we decided to create such a psychological tool with which one could learn to ask the right questions, and then find the right answers to them. To do this, we have developed three sets of auxiliary cards for the development of creativity, which help in the search:

When creating these materials, we proceeded from the same principle of treating the problem as a creative task. We proceeded from a paradoxical but interesting principle: all creative methods for solving any problems … have already been invented. And we, just like Elon Musk, at first we asked the main question: “How to make sure that our auxiliary tools are suitable for absolutely everyone, regardless of age, gender, habits and social status?” “So that working with them, anyone can find clue about your situation, your unique request?”

Our searches have led us to the fact that in order to express a lot with a small number of words or signs, well-known images that cannot but evoke associations and metaphors with the life of each person, but at the same time remain personal, are excellent. But where to get such well-known images and symbols? Of course, in history, mythology, literature and fairy tales, in cinema and folklore! Yes, in fact, in our own life. After all, many images lie in our subconscious and are constantly repeated.

For example, there is an image of a hunter in movies, fairy tales and books. What does “hunter” mean? This is a person who should be as focused as possible on his goal. For hunting success, he needs to know the habits of his prey, have patience and endurance, in order to ultimately pull the trigger and not miss. This is how he ensures his survival. Although hunting has become a hobby today, the strategy itself has remained. For example, the hunter strategy is used by many entrepreneurs and companies, eliminating their competitors in the market. But the same strategy won’t work for everyone, right? All people are different. Someone is closer to the path of a scientist or inventor, someone is a philosopher and a sage, and someone is a child or even a jester. But from all the images you can draw something of your own, learn something …

We have done a tremendous job of sifting out repetitive images and types, united them into archetypes, formulated hundreds of unique strategies for solving business problems and any problems in principle. In just three of our creative decks, there are over 2,000 unique stimulus elements: suggestive texts, metaphorical images, questions, tips, and creativity techniques that work like hooks for our brains. They will definitely give you a new idea and help you come up with something new! Now, we use the resulting product for a variety of purposes: for counseling as a psychological tool, for finding extraordinary ideas for advertising and business, choosing a strategy for overcoming crisis situations, and much more.

The most important thing that we teach people with the help of creativity maps (including in our trainings) is that the search for a solution to any problem is not limited to the selection of simple and obvious answers and guesswork. The real creativity lies in mastering the art of asking conscious and correct questions. And doing this is not as easy as it seems. So, if you have a need to master such a method, which is perhaps one of the key ones for any person, then we will be happy to help you. This is our mission and we are always ready to share our knowledge.


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