The 'absolute worst thing' SpaceX employees can say to Elon Musk

Elon MuskBill Pugliano / GettyElon Musk, perhaps upon hearing something called impossible

Elon Musk isn’t deterred by crazy odds.

In fact, the “absolute worst thing” that an employee at his rocket company SpaceX can tell him is that something is impossible, according to Ashlee Vance’s soon-to-be-released book, “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future.

If an employee tells Musk that a deadline or cost requirement is isn’t possible, he will often kick them off their job on the spot.

“Elon will say, ‘Fine. You’re off the project, and I am now the CEO of the project. I will do your job and be CEO of two companies at the same time. I will deliver it,'” former senior SpaceX engineer Kevin Brogan told Vance. “What’s crazy is that Elon actually does it. Every time he’s fired someone and taken their job, he’s delivered on whatever the project was.”

Vance’s book is filled with examples of seemingly impossible things the SpaceX team has achieved.

The team built rocket computing systems that cost only a little over $US10,000, when the norm in traditional aerospace was over $US10 million. They built speciality parts on budgets twenty times less than the quotes they received from traditional manufacturers. Employees told Vance that Musk would pick “the most aggressive time schedule imaginable assuming everything goes right, and then accelerate it by assuming that everyone can work harder.”

And SpaceX employees do work incredibly hard. One employee, Steve Davis, director of advanced projects, has reportedly been putting in 16 hour days every day for years.

Not only hard, but employees have learned to work fast, too. For example, after a launch failure, SpaceX employees identified the likely causes in hours.

“Typically turnaround time from others in the launch business can range from weeks to months for failure investigations,” former SpaceX employee Dolly Singh writes in a Quora post.

“I don’t ever set intentionally impossible goals,” Musk told Vance when asked about his crazy expectations. “But I’ve certainly always been optimistic on time frames.”

Brogan says that Musk even pees fast.

“It’s like a fire hose — three seconds and out,” he says. “He’s authentically in a hurry.”

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