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In Just 3 Words, Elon Musk Explained How You Can Become Expert at Anything (Even Rocket Science)

In Just 3 Words, Elon Musk Explained How You Can Become Expert at Anything (Even Rocket Science)

You can become an expert in just about anything if you read enough books on the subject. If you don’t believe me, ask Elon Musk. Whenever anyone asks him how he learned to build space-traveling rockets, this is his three word answer: “I read books.”

Elon Musk
Credit: Getty Images

Musk is no rocket scientist, at least not by training. He has a bachelor’s degree in economics and another one in physics, and although he got into Stanford’s Ph.D. program in energy physics/material science, he dropped out after two days to launch Zip2, a city guide software company that the founders sold to Compaq for $307 million. A few years later he co-founded the company that would become PayPal, which eBay bought for $1.5 billion.

It was at this point, flush with internet millions, that Musk began setting his sights on colonizing Mars. He attempted to buy rockets from the Russians, but they demanded a price even an internet millionaire couldn’t afford, and generally refused to take him seriously, according to a profile in Esquire. So Musk told aerospace consultant Jim Cantrell who was working with him that they would build the rockets themselves.

He showed Cantrell his plans, and Cantrell thought, “I’ll be damned — that’s why he’s been borrowing all my books.” Musk had been ingesting Cantrell’s textbooks on rocket-building and had transformed himself into an expert. “He knew everything,” Cantrell told Esquire. “He’d been planning to build a rocket all along.” And that’s how SpaceX was born.

It works even if you’re not Elon Musk.
“All right,” you might argue, “Musk learned to build rockets by reading books. But he’s a genius. Ordinary mortals can’t do this.” But they can, at least they with houses, if not rockets. I know, because my father-in-law, an otherwise unremarkable man who spent most of his adult life working for the Postal Service, did just that.

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Harvey Yan


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