It’s an often asked question of Musk – ‘How did he learn so much?’
Since childhood, he has been a tireless self learner. At the age of 10 he resorted to reading Encyclopedia Britannica after devouring every other book at home.
From interviews and discussions with Musk, its becomes apparent that he views people as computer systems, being made up of hardware (body) and software (mind). Recognizing that your software is one of the most powerful tools that you possess, Musk works tirelessly on updating his, feeding it with more knowledge and information when he wants to understand a problem.
Jim Cantrell, one of the founding team members of SpaceX comments on Musk’s incredibly fast learning ability:
“He literally sucks the knowledge and experience out of people that he is around. He borrowed all of my college texts on rocket propulsion when we first started working together in 2001.”
In 2000, before Musk had even set up SpaceX, he began devouring books on propulsion, avionics and aeronautical engineering. He already knew that his goal was landing people on Mars, now he just needed to upgrade his software with the information and tools on how to accomplish it.
A trait that underpins Musk’s model of thinking is being able to quickly consume and understand complex information, then plan with clarity how to apply it in making progress towards his goal. People are impressed with his deep knowledge across a wide range of technical subjects, from electrical, structural, mechanical, aeronautical, and software engineering through to business strategy and more.
“I think most people can learn a lot more than they think they can. They sell themselves short without trying.
One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree — make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e. the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.”
This habit of self learning and forcing himself to understand new concepts, gives him a huge internal database of knowledge that he is then able to run through his internal problem solving tool.
It would also be fair to say that Musk approaches learning seriously and with intent – after all, he’s doing it in order to further his goals and colonize Mars, not just to pass the time. With this in mind, he devotes serious portions of his time to study:
“Work like hell. I mean you just have to put in 80 to 100 hour weeks every week. [This] improves the odds of success. If other people are putting in 40 hour work weeks and you’re putting in 100 hour work weeks, then even if you’re doing the same thing you know that… you will achieve in 4 months what it takes them a year to achieve.”
Source: John Bramble on Quora