IWSG: Setting Elon Musk-Style Goals

Today’s post is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop where insecure writers like myself can share our worries and offer advice and encouragement. Click here to find out more about IWSG and to see a list of participating blogs.

This is going to be another of those IWSG posts where I talk about space exploration, but really I’m talking about writing. Just bare with me. I think you’ll see why this is relevant, especially right now in the beginning of November.

If you’re a space enthusiast like me, you’ve had your heart broken many times over the years about Mars. NASA has made big promises about a Mars mission, but everything keeps getting postponed, and it sometimes seems unlikely NASA will ever follow through. A few years ago, a private group called Mars One made some really big promises, but it sounds like they really, really won’t be able to follow through.

And then there’s Elon Musk and his company, SpaceX. Musk has made a lot of promises about SpaceX, the Red Dragon spacecraft, and a Mars colony populated by hundreds of thousands of people. All of this is supposed to start happening in the next decade, maybe sooner. Or so Musk keeps telling us.

Musk does this with all of his grand endeavors, like Tesla, Open AI, and Solar City. Big promises are made. Ambitious deadlines are set. And then those deadlines are missed, and those promises are broken. It would seem that Musk is nothing more than a pipedreamer. A very wealthy pipedreamer, but still… just a pipedreamer.

Except while Musk’s publically stated goals rarely if ever seem to come to fruition, his companies still make tremendous progress; so much so that they continue to be attract investors even as they appear to be failing spectacularly at everything they set out to do.

I wasn’t sure what to make of this until a year or two ago when I read a short article about Musk. It may have been this article, or possibly this one (unfortunately I didn’t save the original link).

Apparently Elon Musk believes that it’s better to set your goals a little too high and just barely miss than to set your goals low so you can achieve them easily. One way pushes you to try harder, and even if you don’t succeed at the goal you set for yourself you still make progress—more progress than you would have made otherwise, perhaps more progress than you honestly thought was possible. The other way—the low, easy goals way—gives you permission to become stagnant and allows you to call that success.

I’m not much of a businessman. I don’t know if this is a good way to run a company, though it does seem to be working for Musk. But as I chase my own ambitious writing goals this month, and as some of you pursue the ambitious goals set by NaNoWriMo, maybe it’s worth keeping the Elon Musk philosophy of goal setting in mind.

16 thoughts on “IWSG: Setting Elon Musk-Style Goals

  1. Setting your writing goals high is a good thing, I think. But unlike Musk, you definitely want some of them to come to fruition, or you’ll never have anything to publish. Good luck on your writing goals.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s fair. I’m kind of interpreting this as setting a goal like publish four books in a year, and then being okay with yourself if you only publish three. I wouldn’t want the takeaway from this to be to finish nothing.


  2. Great post. Good luck with the writing this month, NaNoWriMo or otherwise. I like the idea of setting high goals but then coming in under. It’s important to keep that in mind and not faulting yourself down the road for only reaching that smaller goal. It’s a trap lots of us fall into, myself included. “I could totally have done {giant thing} if I’d only worked an extra hour a day! If I can do an extra 20 minutes, an extra hour is just 40 minutes longer! It’s nothing!” Stuff like that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly. Like I said in one of the other comments, if my goal is to write four books in a year and I only finish three, I should still be okay with that. This is an example, by the way, not my actual goal.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I also think it says a lot about a person when they take quality into account over speed. It’s not the most relevant thing with space exploration, but with writing, just slapping words on paper to reach a certain number doesn’t seem like the best way to achieve a goal. It seems like Elon Musk knows that if the Tesla’s not ready, it shouldn’t be released just to hit a deadline. I appreciate that. Still not driving a Tesla, but I am glad they exist.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Quality over quantity. Yes, I think that’s part of it too. I’m sure Musk knows that if the Tesla or the Falcon Heavy or any of these other inventions don’t perform, his good reputation will be ruined. The same is true for a book.


    1. Yup, that’s the way I’ve come to see things. Or at least, I try to see things that way. It can still be hard when I fall short of my goals, but that’s okay so long as I’m making progress.


  4. Great analogy. I, too, am disappointed at the lack of progress in reaching Mars. I agree that it’s important to set high goals. Better to reach higher and strive harder than to easily achieve goals. Striving harder is the key.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I suppose that’s the real goal: getting yourself to strive harder, not letting yourself get complacent.

      And I remain convinced we will make it to Mars, sooner or later. I’d just really like it to be sooner.


  5. If I got to publish one new story a year I’d be happy! 🙂 To me, it’s about putting something out there that I’m proud of; something I don’t keep on re-editing. I’m always going back to the old instead of writing and publishing the new. Even when I work on something new it makes me think of something old: ‘Oh, this is better than what I did back then. Maybe if I just go back and tweak that story too?’ It’s never-ending! Lol. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think there’s something to be said for taking the time to get things right. I’ve been working on the same project for years now, and I sometimes feel like I should’ve gotten it published years ago. At the same time, I know it wasn’t ready yet, and I’m glad I didn’t force myself to publish prematurely.


  6. It’s the best way to be a dreamer, I think, and dreaming leads to innovation. Have you ever heard the expression “aim for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”? Okay, yes, someone didn’t understand distance in space, but I’ve always loved the sentiment, and I think it applies very well to Elon Musk and his crazy, creative aspirations.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Funny you mention that saying. It was the title of my college admissions essay, and my Mom gave me a refrigerator magnet with that on it when I graduated. Since then Kerbal Space Program taught me the real price you pay for missing the Moon, but I still live by the sentiment.

      Liked by 1 person

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