Strategy, tactics and Elon Musk

Elon Musk said something interesting once about why he does what he does: “I’m just trying to think about the future and not be sad.” This is his strategy. But what are his tactics?

There’s a difference between the two words, despite many using them interchangeably. Strategy refers to the big picture plan, the overarching method for how to proceed. Tactics involve the specific actions that need to be taken to implement the strategy. Besides clearing up the semantics, I think there’s value in knowing how the two apply to everyday life.

Let’s say you’re attempting to write a news article, and you want to give opposing sides of the issue fair say. (Something we could probably use more of in this world.) Your strategy is to give a relatively unbiased picture of what’s going on, and so your tactics may involve in-depth background research on both sides, interviews with different people, cross editing with other authors and more.

Life in general is a little more complex. Musk’s overarching strategy is to make sure the future isn’t a desolate wasteland of depleted resources and a dying human race. An admirable, if not formidable endeavor. Of course, everyone would be happier in a world that’s not filled with pollution and traffic, and the idea that we become an interplanetary species would secure much of the (really far ahead) foreseeable future of the human race. Still, not many devote their lives to resolving any one of these issues, let alone all three. How will he do it?

Musks strategy and tactics are summed up nicely again in another of his quotes:

When you are starting out in college, in your freshman and sophomore year, you have these sort of sophomoric philosophical wanderings. And I tried to think of OK, what are the things that seem to me that would most affect the future of humanity?

There were really five things, three of which that I thought would be interesting to be involved in. And the three that I thought would definitely be positive: the internetsustainable energy — both production and consumption, and space exploration, more specifically the extension of life beyond Earth.

The first bolded question restates the strategy I explained that he had. The next three bolded phrases, the internet, sustainable energy and space exploration sum up his tactics for helping to create a better future. These are specific, and yet still gargantuan actions that he planned on involving himself with. But they represent huge commitments that he made and followed through with. With the internet, Musk had Paypal. With sustainable energy, look at Solar City and Tesla. With space exploration, there’s SpaceX.

Something anyone can take away from this is the necessity of having a plan. Perhaps you’re not one to revolutionize three different industries that will shape the future. That’s fine. Many aren’t. But when you live life knowing what you want to do, and making sure that every day you have identified specific things so that you’re doing what you want to do, life will never be boring.

It may be stressful, time-consuming, yes, but it will also be a life with purpose. Musk did it early in college, identifying what he wanted to do with his life and then following through with it. Whether you’re in college, high-school, interning, taking a gap year, working at a multinational or whatever, it’s always the right time to start thinking about your life strategy. And don’t stop there, because a strategy is incomplete when you don’t have the tactics to go with it.

Whatever it is you choose to do, may it also be one that, in some way, makes the future “not sad”.


This is Musk’s Ted interview where I got the initial quote from. It’s a fascinating watch if you’re interested in seeing what the world will look as the next century progresses, and it gives a little insight on how the man behind it all thinks.


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