5 ways a biography of Ben Franklin shaped Elon Musk's world view

Lessons to learn from Elon Musk's appreciation of Benjamin Franklin's biography
Lessons to learn from Elon Musk's appreciation of Benjamin Franklin's biography

Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk recently announced his next adventure, Neuralink, a company focused on developing an implant that would allow the human brain to communicate directly with tech devices.

It's the most recent innovation for the PayPal, Tesla and SpaceX co-founder whose ambitions started when he was a child with a love of books. It's said that he read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica at age nine and would devour science fiction novels for more than 10 hours a day.

When asked by interview series Foundation how he got to where he is today, Musk responded, "I read a lot of books and talked to a lot of people."

One of Musk's favorite books is "Benjamin Franklin: An American Life," by Walter Isaacson, the biographer who famously chronicled Steve Jobs' life.

The biography explores the inner workings of the founding father, who, it can be argued, shared much of the same entrepreneurial drive Musk has.

Elon Musk
Tim Rue | Bloomberg | Getty Images

In fact, the billionaire says Franklin is one of his personal heroes.

"I would say, certainly, he's one of the people I most admire," Musk says in an interview with Foundation's Kevin Rose. "Franklin was pretty awesome."

Franklin's story of building a printing business, inventing bifocal glasses and creating the lightning rod, among other feats, provided Musk with inspiration for creating new products and launching businesses.

"You can see how [Franklin] was an entrepreneur," the Tesla CEO says. "He started from nothing. He was just a runaway kid."

Here are five things we can learn from the book on the American author, inventor, scientist and diplomat that inspired Musk:

1. You can teach yourself difficult skills

After running away from from Boston, where he was born, to Philadelphia at age 17, Franklin started working at a printing house. Surrounded by books and newspapers at his apprenticeship, he felt his own writing skills were lacking.

So he decided to teach himself the craft.

Franklin made a habit of reading British culture and politics magazine "The Spectator" and reverse-engineering the articles, copying the techniques of established journalists at the time.

Isaacson's biography features this telling account from Franklin: "I took some of the papers, and, making short hints of the sentiment in each sentence, laid them by a few days, and then, without looking at the book, tried to complete the papers again."

Similarly, Musk is said to have taught himself about space exploration and rocket science simply by reading textbooks and asking experts questions.

Franklin is one of the people I most admire.
Elon Musk
SpaceX and Tesla CEO

2. Improving yourself personally can help you professionally

Franklin was very keen on improving himself. When he was 21, he started a club for intellectuals and artists to talk about what they were reading and ideas they had on how to improve their community.

The club, called "Junto," had the two ingredients Musk credits with his own success: books and inspiration from other like-minded people.

Through this club, he learned about the importance of networking, which would serve him well in his career. The author and diplomat would go on to become the first U.S. ambassador to France and was one of the authors of the Declaration of Independence.

Universal History Archive/UIG/Getty Images

Franklin also worked to refine his communication skills, which helped him gain other people's trust and respect. According to Isaacson, he was a "consummate networker" who was "gifted" in making diplomatic deals come to fruition.

3. Manage your time and money wisely

Isaacson recounts how Franklin would take every measure possible to stay focused on using his money and time wisely, vowing, "to apply myself industriously to whatever business I take in hand."

Franklin created a strict daily schedule for himself, which included specific times for learning, physical exercise and self-reflection.

And though he took measures to hide it in front of elite company, he made an effort to save as much of his income as possible. Franklin was always thinking about he could improve himself as well as the city of Philadelphia. In addition to playing a crucial role in local and national politics, Franklin started a library, a hospital, an insurance company and a fire station.

Benjamin Franklin and associates at Franklin's printing press in 1732.
GraphicaArtis | Getty Images

He also took care to "not divert my mind from my business by any foolish project of suddenly growing rich," he wrote, "for industry and patience are the surest means of plenty."

Musk's career was also years in the making.

He started coding when he was 12 years old, tried his hand at finance, toyed with the idea of getting a Ph.D and had to deal with multiple setbacks while becoming an entrepreneur, including the more recent failure of some of his rocket launches. Despite this, he kept working.

4. Fast-track your career by reading

Franklin, like Musk, loved books. They helped him save money and gain skills faster than his colleagues.

For example, after the writer and inventor read a book on vegetarianism, he embraced the diet, realizing it would help him out financially. He used the money he saved by not purchasing meat to buy books, Isaacson recounts.

While his coworkers left work to eat large meals, Franklin would eat a lean meal of biscuits and raisins and use his free time to study.

"I made the greater progress from that greater clearness of head and quicker apprehension which usually attend temperance in eating and drinking," Franklin wrote.

I read a lot of books and talked to a lot of people.
Elon Musk
SpaceX and Tesla CEO

5. Innovation is born from solving the most basic problems

''[Franklin's] focus tended to be on how ordinary issues affect everyday lives, and on how ordinary people would build a better society,'' Isaacson writes. ''But that did not make him an ordinary man.''

The inventor changed the way people read with his bifocal glasses as well as the way people heated their homes by creating the Franklin Stove, which could be used to cook food and heat a home from the center of a room.

And of course, he verified the nature of electricity during the 1750s with his famous kite experiment, which would fast-track human's exploration of technology.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Musk appears to have a similar mentality for how he approaches the world. His drive to improve the process of making online payments and create more energy-efficient transportation helped shape PayPal and Tesla.

"I like autobiographies," Musk says. "I think [they] are pretty helpful."

It's no surprise then that Franklin is someone the billionaire entrepreneur looks up to.

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