The “Musk Doctrine” Puts Pressure On Employees To Reach Impossible Deadlines

2 years ago by Eric Loveday 84

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A recent Bloomberg article penned a new term related to Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

The term is “Musk Doctrine” and it’s loosely defined by Bloomberg as follows:

“It goes something like this: People do paradigm-shifting work only when they’re under tremendous pressure, so the key is to ensure deadlines are always impossible. This could help explain why Musk has never launched a product on time, yet no one seems able to keep up with him. It drives Wall Street nuts.”

Bloomberg suggests that Tesla running behind schedule is actually part of the business strategy, which it calls a “winning-through-failure strategy.”

We’re not convinced that this is an actual strategy, but Elon Musk has, on several occasions, declared some of Tesla’s goals as impossible to achieve, yet those goals are still put in place. As Bloomberg points out:

“Musk, 44, tipped his hand on this winning-through-failure strategy last week when he set the launch date for Tesla’s widely anticipated Model 3 electric car astonishingly early: July 1, 2017.”

“Now, will we actually be able to achieve volume production on July 1 next year? Of course not,” he said on Tesla’s earnings call. “In order for us to be confident of achieving volume production of Model 3 by late 2017, we actually have to set a date of mid-2017 and really hold people’s feet to the fire, internally and externally.”

So, by aiming for the impossible, Tesla pushes its employees and supplier to the max. Tesla won’t achieve the impossible, but this method ensure that development moves along as quickly as possible.

Bloomberg provides several more examples of the “Musk Doctrine” and the winning-through-failure strategy in its article at the source link below.

Source: Bloomberg

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84 responses to "The “Musk Doctrine” Puts Pressure On Employees To Reach Impossible Deadlines"

  1. Matt says:

    “People do paradigm-shifting work only when they’re under tremendous pressure, so the key is to ensure deadlines are always impossible.”

    /spitcoffeeallovertheplace

    1. John says:

      That’s got to be more than a little stressful…But then again, if changing the world were easy, everyone would be doing it.

  2. georges says:

    Wow Bloomberg can make eye catching news just by renaming slave labor a “Musk Doctrine”.

    Somebody already wrote a book about it but it’s never too late to ride the Tesla wave.

    https://www.amazon.com/Elon-Musk-SpaceX-Fantastic-Future-ebook/dp/B00KVI76ZS?ie=UTF8&btkr=1&redirect=true&ref_=dp-kindle-redirect

    If you are interested in Elon Musk and his 2 companies you should read this book.

    Want to work for Tesla or SpaceX?

    Be prepared to work 24/7.

    Not prepared? You need not apply

    1. no comment says:

      nobody is forced to work at tesla, or any other musk venture, so “slave laber” is clearly the wrong term.

    2. kubel says:

      Slave labor? The draft is slave labor. Voluntary at-will employment is a job. If it’s too stressful or you don’t feel compensation is good enough, you leave and work for another company.

      1. Ocean Railroader says:

        That rule doesn’t apply any more in this low wage economy. I hate it when people say O go get another job if you hate your current one. That rule doesn’t work anymore whatsoever.

        I work at a crap low wage job and have a collage degree and have been applying for jobs for the last three years. And I still have not have been able to get a new one.

        1. no comment says:

          at will employment is a matter of priorities and how you choose them, it is not “slave labor”. people who actually experienced slave labor had no choices.

          so it is frivolous to call it “slave labor” when you work a job that you don’t like because you don’t want to give up the house, car(s) and other material comforts in your life.

        2. Ken says:

          Its college degree not collage degree. And that doesn’t guarantee you anything. It’s not what you know that gets you hired, its who you know. I don’t have a college degree but i’ve managed to lease the Mini E ($850 a month), buy a new 2012 Leaf, 2015 Leaf, 2013 Zero S, and buy my parents a used 2012 iMiev. I also camped out overnight to drop a $1000 on a Model 3 deposit. It’s all been possible from my $15 an hour job. Matter of fact, the Mini E lease payments were made from my unemployent check after the place i worked at went out of business. I recently changed careers after 20 years in the same industry. I had absolutely no experience in my new career at all but i was still hired because of my willingness to work. Ive also never had a part time job. Ive worked full time 40 hours plus since i was 16. I bought myself a brand new Honda CBR a long time ago when i was pumping gas and making $5.00 an hour. So, maybe you need to try a little harder. Don’t make excuses and always be on the lookout for the better paying job. And meet as many people as you can, that’s most likely how you’ll find your next job. But in the meantime, don’t cry about your current situation of degree but no good job. Excel at the job you’re currently at even if it’s Burger King and people will notice and that may lead to your next job or a promotion at your current workplace.

        3. Nero says:

          You surprised me by not knowing that degree in some areas is just a piece of paper (so called diploma) and waste of few years of your time. Maybe it’s time to move on and change qualification, field of expertise, market or be your own boss?
          I don’t have degree, didn’t finish college (but did some collages with Picasa), but from that what you’re saying – I’m in a way better position, especially that I’m boss for myself and working for myself.

  3. Get Real says:

    I read the book and the expectations are high, but not as hard as the Army which I just retired from 5 years ago.

  4. Brave Lil Toaster says:

    This is a page ripped directly out of the “how to manage software engineers” manual. The trick of course, is that software engineers are sometimes smart enough to know what’s going on. After a few iterations, at least. It’s the stuff of more than a few Dilbert strips.

    1. no comment says:

      what bloomberg calls the “musk doctrine” is the way that silicon valley has worked for decades.

      1. All-Purpose Guru says:

        True. It’s sad to see Bloomburg inventing new terms for headlines to encourage more clicks.

        The term since the 90’s is “Death March” and is typically how many startups work.

        1. Rich says:

          Exactly. There’s always 2 deadlines. 1 for the board and 1 for the employees. The Board get the real date and the employees get the 6 mo. earlier date. It’s called start-up survival.

          1. JR says:

            Maybe he is just doing catch up with the original plan!

            1. Rich says:

              I wasn’t talking about Tesla. I’m talking about startups in general.

        2. RexxSee says:

          As part of the BigOil/Car cartel’s controled media’s P.R. propaganda strategy, Bloomberg aims to undermine the moral of Tesla’s troups.

          1. Brave Lil Toaster says:

            What the actual **** are you talking about? Bloomberg is the single most pro-EV, pro-renewables news source in existence today.

            Maybe you’re thinking The Economist or the Washington Post or something like that.

    2. Bonaire says:

      And where did Dilbert originate?

      San Francisco at Pacific Bell, wasn’t it? Not exactly a high-performance company. The office life described in Dilbert was more of the old-wonk slow mega-corporation.

  5. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

    This style of leadership is hardly confined to Elon Musk. Anybody else watch the TV show “Halt and Catch Fire”, about the early days of the desktop computer industry? Very much the same intense pressure for development, the same striving for apparently impossible goals, on that show.

    And it does happen in real life. I’ve read that Steve Jobs was the same way; a driven workaholic who demanded everyone working with him had to work just as hard. An even more extreme case was Admiral Rickover, who lead the U.S. development of nuclear-powered submarines. They used to say “Yeah, Rickover is a bastard, but he’s our bastard!”

    Whether that is the sort of work atmosphere any individual person will do well in, depends a great deal about the person. For some, it’s the ideal work environment. For others, it’s a nightmare. There’s no question that such demanding, driven leaders can push and lead teams to accomplish remarkable things in relatively short periods of time. But whether or not that is the only way to accomplish such progress… I think that is far less clear.

    * * * * *

    Yes, I did find it eye-opening when I first read about Elon actually admitting to setting impossible goals. This was something I never expected to see him admit in public. Interesting that he doesn’t see this as a character flaw, but rather a corporate strategy. Reminds me of the computer programmers’ joke: “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature!”

    1. JWF says:

      Having been interviewed and subsequently worked in Rickover’s program, there are a few key points that separate a intense pursuit versus a slave labor sweathouse:
      1) Is the boss working just as hard on the same 24/7 schedule?
      2) Is the goal money or to accomplish something?
      3) Are the most productive folks getting the responsibility or are there office politics involved in picking the leaders?

      1. Delta says:

        Elon said he has his sleeping bag set up at the end of the Model X QC control line. That must send a clear signal to his people about what is the current priority.

    2. All-Purpose Guru says:

      From an older version of Tesla’s career website:

      “Our hiring criteria include:

      You must have a genuine passion for electric vehicles and electric propulsion systems. Without passion, you would find what we’re trying to do too difficult. There are much easier jobs.”

      I have about a half dozen friends who work there (and I’ve interviewed there too.) and they aren’t kidding. Two people independently referred to Tesla as a “meat grinder”.

      1. Bonaire says:

        I am consulting at a company now that was under a meat grinder mentality a while back. New CTO came in and first step was to institute a “slow down” action and get things under control. It is working far better now.

    3. georges says:

      @PMPU yes I know it’s common practice. I have a nephew and his wife that work at Banner hospital. They both work 12-14 hours a day 6 days a week.

      When they are not at the office they are on call. When they fall to sleep they think about work to help solve problems for tomorrow.

      It’s good for the company but leads to bad mental health for some others.

      Like I said if you can’t cope with 24/7 don’t work for Elon.

      1. Phr≡d says:

        “When they fall to sleep they think about work..”
        painfully spot-on and true, not just there..

        i.e., that feeling that you have been beating your neurons senseless for however many hours you’ve been unconscious — as someone with notably Less neurons than the halcyon days, I can confirm from my poll-of-one that the experience is a danger to mental health.

  6. This can work at times but long term tends to burn out really bright talented people unless the rewards are commensurate with the pressure.

    The bigger issue I see now is that the task at hand is so capital intensive, they almost have to hit their targets. It is difficult to borrow billions based on scaling to 500k but only reach 300k. The losses, debt and negative cash flow become tough to manage and distract the company from their true vision.

    This will be a very interesting two years to watch.

  7. tftf says:

    Exhibit 1: High employee turn-over (even for a Valley company)

    Musk will burn out even more people – resulting in more delays (because a new hire mist be found and isn’t productive overnight, especially in a senior position).

    The 2017-2018 schedules are pipe dreams and could result in very expensive recalls. A giant recall on Model3 could even break Tesla’s neck…but Musk seems to be too stubborn to change course.

    Suicide mission, as I mentioned before.

    1. All-Purpose Guru says:

      The actual term is “Death March”. And yes, this is a thing in Silicon Valley. My wife has an 8:30am meeting at work every day, and typically gets home at 11pm at night, and ends up working until 2am. It’s tough.

      1. You are probably already familiar with the book by that title by Edward Yourdon.

        Well worth reading.

        1. All-Purpose Guru says:

          That’s where the term came from. When your company passes out copies of the book it’s a warning sign.

      2. tftf says:

        That can work for a few months for one project…but it will burn out people sooner or later.

        We will see when the Model3 actually ships and with how many defects/recalls…

        The new timeplan until 2018 is a suicide mission, I have to repeat myself.

    2. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      tftf, you have a 100% batting average at regularly predicting Tesla’s downfall. 100% wrong.

      The Great Casey only struck out once. You manage to do it every time! 😀

      1. tftf says:

        Downfall? I didn’t set a date…yet.

        As long as investors and bondholders provide them with fresh money they can/will continue.

        Just more debt and leverage…until the train stops.

        In the meantime, look at some stats:

        Share dilution and share count?

        S&P rating for convertibles already at junk and assets already pledged in ABL?

        Cash flow burn and new promises when cash will be generated (since 2013).

    3. Ocean Railroader says:

      When people are over worked and bullied under pressure they will make tons more mistakes then places were they feel loved.

      1. Ken says:

        Not to be picky, but it’s where not were.

  8. ModernMarvelFan says:

    That will only work until people have alternative choices or feel like they have better ways to “save the world”…

    Tesla already got a “bad reputation” for underpaying people while working them hard in Si Valley which is known for cut throat working conditions…

    So, this will hurt Tesla in the long term.

  9. Four Electrics says:

    Typical sociopathic behavior; others sacrifice for the ego and self-actualization of the ruling sociopath.

    1. All-Purpose Guru says:

      It’s not sociopathic, it’s survival. It takes Chevy about 5-7 years to design a car from the ground up. Tesla is trying to do it in two with a tenth the staff. There’s only one way to do that, and it involves sweat and labor.

      1. HVACman says:

        The Bolt EV design was started in the Spring of 2013. In pre-production now, full production in 5 months. . Not 5-7 years. More like 3 years.

        Google the “Wired” article on the Bolt development history.

        Model 3 concept prepared in 2010. Design apparently started early 2013. Due out in late 2017 – maybe.

        1. Tech01x says:

          Ah, the Bolt is a straight forward adaption of the Gamma G2SC platform. It’s made by the same team in South Korea that made other Gamma 2 platform vehicles.

          1. DonC says:

            The Model X was just a little sheet metal on an existing platform. That’s why the development was so fast and why it’s so reliable.

            1. vdiv says:

              A little sheet metal?! Fast?!?!

              1. mr. M says:

                The older you get, the faster the time races. He must be 200 years old 😀

            2. Get Real says:

              LOL Don you could say the same thing about your ELR!

              I remember you complaining about its center stack locking up and trying to get GM to fix it.

        2. All-Purpose Guru says:

          The tech that is in the Bolt was designed longer ago than 2013. You can’t conflate product-based effort with corporate effort. Some of the ideas / technologies in the Bolt originated in the EV1. Chevy themselves admits that over five years of effort has gone into the Bolt.

    2. Ludus says:

      Google sociopathy. You have no idea what you’re posting about.

      1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        “Four Electrics”, aka “Logical Thought”, aka Mark B. Spiegel, is a paid serial Tesla basher and stock shorter. He’s not interested in Truth; he’s only interested in posting FUD to benefit his promotion of stock shorting.

        But yeah, calling Elon Musk a “sociopath” betrays a shocking amount of cluelessness. On the other hand, the label seems to fit Mr. Spiegel like a glove.

        1. Get Real says:

          d I’m sure he posts here under other usernames also.

          The funny thing is that he doesn’t drive an EV at all despite his self-serving username above.

    3. MJP462 says:

      I’m pretty sure all Tesla & SpaceX employees were not forced to accept their jobs and can quit at anytime. He’s not running a concentration camp.

  10. scott franco (No M3 FAUX GRILL!) says:

    The “Musk Doctrine” Puts Pressure On Employees To Reach Impossible Deadlines

    Good.

    1. ModernMarvelFan says:

      To enrich shareholder values…

      Exactly what Wall Street want!

      We are all just slaves to Wall Streets after all. LOL!

      1. Rich says:

        While the stockholders may end up benefiting, I think everyone at Tesla is trying to achieve something larger than profit. The goal is to accelerate the adoption of sustainable transportation. The industry isn’t moving fast enough and are entrenched in oil. Tesla is the only one pushing hard. Thank God for it.

      2. scott franco (No M3 FAUX GRILL!) says:

        In the silicon valley, we work hard, enjoy our work, and get well paid for it.

        Its called capitalism.

        I know its hard for you socialists to understand. Time to run out to the mailbox and see if your disability check arrived!

        1. alohart says:

          It’s ironic that you capitalists who work so hard that you have no balance in your lives (family? what’s that?) are the ones who are more likely to become disabled, but in your pure capitalist world, you wouldn’t have a disability check or any other type of help that a progressive society could provide. Well, you’d have your money to comfort you, I guess.

          1. Ocean Railroader says:

            When your working 15 hour days and have to live at the office and drink instance breakfasts while at the office. Then you are not living life but are a slave.

            1. Ken says:

              Again, it’s instant not instance breakfast. And you bragged you have a college degree. I hope it’s not in English. Not to pick on you, but can you see why you might not have the better job you want yet? Make an effort to spell correctly and speak correctly, even on the interwebs. That being said, i make plenty of mistakes myself typing my posts but i blame that on my iphone and posting while im driving to and from work, or on my lunch break hurrying to lunch. Not enough time in the day. And i really don’t mean to pick on you, i’m just trying to help.

        2. go says:

          scott franco says:

          “In the silicon valley, we work hard, enjoy our work, and get well paid for it.”

          You remind me of the neighbor in the show, Silicon Valley. You know, the one with the ferrets. There are plenty of people who lucked into it by being at the right place at the right time. As frequently as you post here, twice in this thread with a large gap in time stamps, it is clear you are not one of the ones working hard. You are not fooling most of us.

  11. HVACman says:

    Interesting comparison of dynamics between Tesla and GM. GM sets aggressive development and production schedules, but schedules that work with their systems and staff.

    I remember when GM projected in 2008 that the first retail Volts would roll off the line before 2011. I believe they did in early December 2010, on-schedule.

    GM just released their fleet guide that reiterated the Bolt EV retail units are scheduled for production at Orion in October. Right on schedule.

    Mary Barra spends her evenings going to Detroit Red Wings games instead of camping out on the production line. Apparently GM’s plant managers don’t need micro-managing and parts vendors don’t need hammering.

    1. Get Real says:

      And GM needed to be bailed out not to long ago too despite GM’s CEO spending nice evenings at events, plant managers who didn’t need micro-managing and parts vendors who didn’t need hammering.

      It can cut both ways.

      1. DonC says:

        Since Tesla was likewise bailed out I never get this criticism.

        1. Get Real says:

          As usual, serial Musk/Tesla hater Don C is still spreading fact-free FUD about Tesla.

          http://techcrunch.com/2009/06/23/the-government-comes-through-for-tesla-with-a-465-million-loan-for-its-electric-sedan/

        2. Rick Danger says:

          You wouldn’t. Enjoy your shiny new GM car… Mark of Excellence, right?

      2. HVACman says:

        True – GM pre-2008 was far too complacent and mis-managed from the top on down. Notice who are NOT around at the top anymore..the bean counters. They have engineering and plant manager types running the show. Car engineers and builders. Focus on excellent engineering and excellent builds. Do that and the margins will follow. Which they have. . Most are not aware of exactly how different GM is now.

        Both un-focused complacency and micro-managed uber-focused pressure cookers are not recipes for Giga-success, but for spectacular failure.

        1. Get Real says:

          Riddle me this then HVACman, if the new and improved GM is so super-duper, then WHY are they not putting their class-leading Voltec plug-in into some midsize platforms like CUVS and maybe the Malibu where they could really dominate what is bound to be a new and growing segment????

          1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

            I hope HVACman doesn’t object to me answering:

            Because GM makes a lot more profit, per car, selling gasmobiles than plug-in EVs. Therefore, they have a strong disincentive to put Voltec into more compelling cars, which would compete too strongly with their best sellers.

            1. Get Real says:

              Dammit, your like the kid that shouts out the answer in class. You let him off the hook.

            2. ModernMarvelFan says:

              “Therefore, they have a strong disincentive to put Voltec into more compelling cars, which would compete too strongly with their best sellers.”

              Yes, that is what typical GM haters would say.

              But if you look at the Volt sales, it shows a conquest sales of 70%. So that means if GM can do the same with SUV based Voltec then it can gain at least 70% of the same conquest sales. That means it won’t take away any of the GM sales or profits overall.

              Why does GM or anyone else delay that “affordable option? Because it would be expensive to make and sell which makes them doubting the appeal. Even hybrid SUV (non plugin version) are rare to find and expensive.

              Yes, there is the Outlander PHEV but we don’t know its US price until it actually launches…

          2. Spider-Dan says:

            This possible answer should hit some familiar notes for Tesla enthusiasts:

            Because GM wants to make compelling EVs.

            GM doesn’t want to make a Fusion Energi or Plug-in Prius with severely compromised range, storage, or both. They want to make cars like the Volt and the Bolt: cars that are at the leading edge of their class.

            Remember the response to the ELR? I doubt GM wants any more of that.

            I don’t think it’s possible right now to make a Malibu-sized sedan with Volt-like characteristics at a sub-luxury price. I think the CT6 may be the first real example of a full-sized Voltec sedan, but I expect it to carry a luxury pricetag.

    2. Ocean Railroader says:

      GM in my opinion waked Tesla across the face by coming out with the Bolt vs pulling this three years of surfing hype fest with the Tesla Model 3.

      In my opinion the reason why Apple is finally sliding it is due to the hype ending.

      1. Get Real says:

        And, 400,000 people putting up $1,000 apiece disagree.

        I’ll go with what you call Tesla “hype” over the idea that GM’s Bolt will sell in anything close to large numbers in comparison.

      2. Ken says:

        Do you possibly mean wacked? Not waked.

  12. Bonaire says:

    The harder and faster they work, the sooner Musk can get his additional 5 million stock options. Get to work, folks.

  13. DonC says:

    We know what happens when you tell people to meet unrealistic goals or else: VW.

  14. Get Real says:

    Wow Don, a new low even for you.

    Trying to conflate VW’s criminal actions regarding pollution with Tesla which only builds BEVs and is absolutely leading the revolution towards sustainable transportation.

  15. Samwise says:

    Given that we now know the Model 3 design work was under way 6 years ago and last month people were driving around in what looked like pretty complete samples, I’m not convinced you can call it astonishingly early. Seven years would seem rather normal for developing an automobile and people have certainly done it in less I’m sure.

    “Musk, 44, tipped his hand on this winning-through-failure strategy last week when he set the launch date for Tesla’s widely anticipated Model 3 electric car astonishingly early: July 1, 2017.”

  16. Jake Brake says:

    That last year or so of developmeny is for long term durability testing. So pulling the launch date ahead soley based on design is fine, it will just make lower quality vehicles with higher failure rates.

  17. Rick says:

    I don’t care what they do internally, people need to accept that if you work for such an innovative, paradigm shifting company, you will work much harder and face challenges. My only concern is that they give me a half-baked unsafe product that falls apart prematurely. Sounds ridiculous but the fear is there… don’t let the M3 be worse than my e-Golf in terms of quality please Tesla, it’s supposed to be an upgrade.

  18. kdawg says:

    Setting unrealistic goals, then saying “We don’t expect anyone to make them”, removes all the pressure of the unrealistic goals. Cat’s out of the bag.

    1. dRanger says:

      Elon did NOT say “We don’t expect anyone to make them”. Any supplier not making the goal will be scratched from the supplier list. What Elon was saying was that he expects to scratch some suppliers – a very different thing.

  19. Ocean Railroader says:

    I think what Tesla is turning into is a mouth or barking dog. In that they are adding more and more levels of unnecessary complexity to there cars so naturally there is more room for things to break.

    GM on the other hand actually had a lot smaller work load then Tesla in that there cars don’t have a high level of complexity. GM had the electric cars and soft where all along all they had to do was pop in a bigger battery.

    This is one of the reasons why I’m not to trilled about Tesla adding more and more gimmicks to their cars. In that I view it as more things to break and cause delays.

    1. Get Real says:

      Well OC, if we took your statement at face value then we would all still be using Flintstone cars!

      You can be in denial about it all you want but Tesla is out-innovating GM and all the other laggard OEMs combined in adding new features to their cars and once again the what you mis-characterize as “hype” is really a desire for these new improvements in autos.

    2. Ken says:

      Software not soft where. Inside EVs, are you hiring for editors? I’ll just edit the posts.

  20. jmac says:

    Elon Musk is not the first to employ brow beating and intimidation to get what he wants. (the so-called Musk Doctrine) Guys like Carnegie, Edison and Ford all employed similar tactics.

    Edison fought Nikola Tesla tooth and nail over whether AC or DC current transmission is best. Edison was very jealous for his pet favorite, Direct Current, and the whole thing turned into a kind of nasty, bizarre little war some 100 odd years ago. If I remember correctly, some demonstration animals actually ended up getting electrocuted in the process. Eventually, Tesla prevailed on a battlefield strewn with bodies.

    From accounts of the time, Edison had a pretty big ego and could be something of a bullying prick. He often often slept on his laboratory tables at Menlo Park just as Musk sleeps on the assembly line in Cupertino. Edison who was good at organizing work goals for others and spurring people on to do extraordinary things in his laboratory at Menlo Park, a modus operandi similar to Musk’s. Many of the things Edison is credited for inventing were actually the brainchild of his researchers and employees.

    The question is: Are the technological advancements and eventual consumer benefits worth it, if you have to put up with jokers like Steve Jobs, Edison, and Elon Musk along the way ?

    For most people, the short answer is – Yes.

    Of course, most people don’t have to work for Musk. Even Musk’s own brother left Elon Incorporated after the early Pay Pal days, eventually becoming a chef.