Power Players

Neuralink president: You have to be 'very careful' telling Elon Musk something is impossible

Elon Musk, co-founder and chief executive officer of Tesla Inc., speaks during an unveiling event for the Tesla Model Y crossover electric vehicle in Hawthorne, California, U.S., on Friday, March 15, 2019.
Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Billionaire Elon Musk is working to accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy with his electric car company Tesla; he's building rockets that will one day take people to Mars making humans a multiplanetary species with SpaceX; he's building tunnels under Los Angeles to fight traffic with The Boring Company; and he's working to build a machine-brain interface to connect human brains with computers with Neuralink.

Musk does not dream small. And when he is your boss, you can't either.

So says Max Hodak, the President of Neuralink.

"Elon has this incredible optimism, where he will pierce through these imagined constraints and show you that really a lot more is possible that you really think is today," Hodak said Tuesday at Neuralink event at the California Academy of Sciences.

"You have to be very careful telling him that something is impossible," Hodak said. If you are going to say something is not possible it had "better be limited by a law of physics or you are going to end up looking stupid."

Longtime SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell has learned that the word "impossible" is not part of Musk's vocabulary too.

"First of all, when Elon says something, you have to pause and not immediately blurt out, 'Well, that's impossible,' or, 'There's no way we're going to do that. I don't know how.' So you zip it, and you think about it, and you find ways to get that done," Shotwell says in an TED talk in 2018.

Indeed, in her 17 years leading SpaceX, Shotwell said she learned that it is her role to take Musk's grand visions and make them doable.

"I always felt like my job was to take these ideas and kind of turn them into company goals, make them achievable, and kind of roll the company over from this steep slope, get it comfortable," says Shotwell.

Pursuing moonshot technological advancements is Musk's MO.

"When I was young, I didn't really know what I was going to do when I got older. People kept asking me. Eventually, I thought the idea of inventing things would be really cool. The reason I thought that was because I read a quote from Arthur C. Clark, 'A sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.' That's really true," Musk says in the commencement speech he delivered to Caltech in 2012.

"[T]here's many things we take for granted today that weren't even imagined in times past...," said Musk. "So I thought, If I can do some of those things — if I can advance technology, that is like magic and that would be really cool."

While Musk is a big thinker, he is also infamous for being unrealistic about what he can accomplish by when. He has repeatedly missed production deadlines for Tesla vehicles, for example.

To this criticism, Musk agrees.

"Well, I mean punctuality's not my strong suit," Musk told CBS' "60 Minutes" in December, when discussing missed Model 3 deadlines. And in April he admitted, "Sometimes I am not on time, but I get it done."

See also:

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Early on, Elon Musk gave Tesla a '10% chance of success'

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