Elon Mush's 'the algorithm'

Last updated on April 14, 2024 am

Elon Mush’s ‘the algorithm’

Elon Musk calls it “the algorithm,” a distillation of lessons learned while relentlessly increasing production capacity at Tesla’s Nevada and Fremont factories.

According to Walter Isaacson in his new book Elon Musk, there is a “nontrivial chance” that Musk will trot out the algorithm during any given production meeting.

“I became a broken record on the algorithm,” Musk says. “But I think it’s helpful to say it to an annoying degree.”

The next time you’re trying to be more efficient and effective, whether professionally or personally, give Musk’s algorithm a try. Just make sure you complete each step in order. (Sections below in italics are from Isaacson’s book, quoting Musk.)

1. Question every requirement

Each should come with the name of the person who made it. You should never accept that a requirement came from a department, such as the “legal department” or the “safety department.” You need to know the name of the real person who made that requirement. Then you should question it, no matter how smart that person is. Requirements from smart people are the most dangerous, because people are less likely to question them. Always do so, even if the requirement came from me.

Then make the requirements less dumb.

When I took over manufacturing at a new plant, supervisors had to sign off on quality before a production line could start up. The crews often waited five or ten minutes for a supervisor to be found. (Which was another problem that needed to be solved; leaders should be on the floor, not in offices.)

Why? The CEO of the company had established the rule after one expensive mistake. But if operators couldn’t be trusted to know whether their work met quality standards, they shouldn’t be operators.

Many blanket requirements are based on a one-off event that didn’t require a process, guideline, or rule in response. Instead, just deal with the specific situation.

Learn from it – but don’t respond by creating a box everyone must forever fit inside.

2. Delete any part or process you can

You may have to add them back later. In fact, if you do not end up adding back at least 10 percent of them, then you didn’t delete enough.

When I first became a supervisor, one of my jobs was to prepare, print, and deliver a daily report to 20 or so people. The whole process took over an hour. One day I wondered whether anyone actually read the report, so I created it but didn’t print or deliver.

No one noticed.

So I stopped delivering a few other reports. Created them, but didn’t deliver them. No one noticed.

Often we do things simply because we’ve always done them. Or because we think we need to. Or because it’s our job, and therefore it must be important. (Everything about our jobs is important, right?)

3. Simplify and optimize

This should come after step two. A common mistake is to simplify and optimize a part or process that should not exist.

A couple weeks after I’d stopped delivering those reports, I asked a few people if they needed me to start delivering them again. Nope. Then I asked if we still needed to collect the data involved. In most cases we didn’t, because it was already being collected elsewhere. (My department had been doing double work because we didn’t think we could trust other departments to get it right.)

In a few cases, we did need occasionally need certain data, so I found a way to automate the collection process. And I found a way for production crews to not be involved in the collection process, which meant they could spend more time producing and less time serving as data entry clerks.

As you’ll see in a moment, make sure you don’t automate or optimize a process that doesn’t need to exist in the first place. Sure, you can make percentage gains by making something better, but why not save 100 percent of the time, effort, and cost involved in an unneccessary process by eliminating it altogether?

4. Accelerate cycle time

Every process can be speeded up. But only do this after you have followed the first three steps. In the Tesla factory, I mistakenly spent a lot of time accelerating processes that I later realized should have been deleted.

At my old job, we constantly worked to wring time out of job changeovers; the faster we could switch from job to job, the more units we produced per day. In simple terms, the two major ways to increase productivity are to speed up the rate of production (think increasing the miles per hour) and to speed up the time it takes to switch from producing one widget to another.

We spent a ton of time trying to make a set of conveyor guides easier to adjust. A few seconds here, a few seconds there, until one day a junior operator said, “I don’t see why we need to adjust them at all. If we change the shape a little, they’ll work for any size product we run.”
Turns out he was right; we were trying to accelerate a step that should have been removed altogether.

5. Automate

That comes last. The big mistake in Nevada and at Fremont was that I began by trying to automate every step. We should have waited until all the requirements had been questioned, parts and processses deleted, and the bugs shaken out.

After you’ve completed the first four steps, what’s left – the things you really need to do, that are truly important, that genuinely add value – can then be optimized and automated. Get rid of all the fluff, and then make what’s left as effective and efficient as it can be.
Although my former co-workers and I didn’t realize it, we were loosely following Musk’s algorithm at that job. But in our case, as in Musk’s, we often made our lives more difficult by inadvertently skipping a step or two and having to go backwards. (Even so, over the course of ten months, we cut job changeover times in half.)

There are also a few corollaries to the algorithm. Here are a few of my favorites:

All technical managers must have hands-on experience. For example, managers of software teams must spend at least 20 percent of their time coding. Solar roof managers must spend time on the roofs, doing instalations.

Leaders with practical experience tend to make better leaders. (One study found that if your boss can do your job, you’re more likely to be happy at work.)

It’s OK to be wrong. Just don’t be confident and wrong.

Whenever there are problems to solve, don’t go directly to your managers. Do a skip level, and meet with the level right below your managers.

Often, the best decision you can make is deciding who should make certain decisions, and then empowering those people to make those decisions. Almost always, those people are at least one level further down the hierarchy than you think.

The only rules are the ones dictated by the laws of physics.
Everything else is a recommendation.

Granted, you may not want to take that approach to extremes, but if you want to do something better, or faster, or cheaper – or if you simply want to make your business or life better – then you have to do things differently.

Because if you do what everyone else does, you can only accomplish what everyone else accomplishes.


不論是在特斯拉或是SpaceX,只要召開生產會議,馬斯克通常都會提到他的「演算法」(the algorithm),就像是念口號一樣。這些主要是他在內華達和佛利蒙工廠進入「爆能」生產地獄期間學到的教訓。




每一項要求都應該附上提出這項要求的人名。任何來自部門單位的要求,例如「法務部門」或是 「安全部門」,你們都應該拒絕。你們必須知道提出這項要求的人是誰。不論這個人有多聰明,你們都要提出質疑。聰明的人提出的要求通常是最危險的,因為其他人多半不會去質疑他們。


之後你可能需要重新把某些刪掉的東西加回去。事實上,如果你後來沒有重新 加回去至少10%,就代表你一開始刪得不夠多。





在特斯拉工廠,我的錯誤是花太多時間加 快流程,但後來發現許多流程根本應該要被刪除。





例如: 所有技術主管都必須具備實務經驗。









Elon Mush's 'the algorithm'
Posted on
December 17, 2023
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