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Elon Musk Talks About the Importance of Physics, Criticizes the MBA 343

New submitter ElSergio writes "In a two-part interview with the American Physical Society, Elon Musk, founder of PayPal, Tesla Motors and SpaceX, talks about how important it is to be able to think in terms of first principles, a tool learned as a physics student. Later in the interview, he recommends against obtaining an MBA, claiming, 'It teaches people all sorts of wrong things' and 'They don't teach people to think in MBA schools.' In fact. if you are in business and want to work for SpaceX, you will have a better chance getting hired if you do not have one. According to Musk, 'I hire people in spite of an MBA'. He goes on to point out that if you look at the senior managers in his companies, you will not find very many MBAs there."
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Elon Musk Talks About the Importance of Physics, Criticizes the MBA

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  • couldnt agree more (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @03:49PM (#45475167)

    Totally agree with this, Its should be same in IT companies as well

    • by i kan reed ( 749298 ) on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @04:02PM (#45475321) Homepage Journal

      But then who's going to move you to open floor layouts to "improve collaboration"?

      • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @04:29PM (#45475623) Journal

        But then who's going to move you to open floor layouts to "improve collaboration"?

        Well, I consulted with the IT department and the facilities department. Facilities says that, since it's a leased space, it would be pretty expensive to pull out all the cubes and make the necessary wiring changes.

        IT said that all the PCs already have mics and built in speakers, and they can get the work-experience kid to hack together a system that samples background noise from all over the office, mixes it, and plays in continuously from all PCs (with the process running in a security context high enough that the peons can't turn it off) by next week for no money.

        In light of that, we've decided that a simulation of the open-plan experience is the best way to go. Plus, those worthless non-team-players who "work from home" will love it when we roll it out to them.

      • But then who's going to move you to open floor layouts to "improve collaboration"?

        I don't understand why open-floor layouts get a bad rap. I work in one now, and it's great. I never want to see the inside of another cube.

    • by al0ha ( 1262684 ) on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @04:06PM (#45475355) Journal
      Elon is not the only genius who thinks an MBA is bogus and he's 100% correct; but we have to give FZ his due as he was way ahead of the curve on this thinking.

      " When people started taking MBA seriously, that was the beginning of the ruination of the American industrial society. When all decisions are based on an MBA's concept of numerical reality, you're in deep shit, because the only thing that can be judged as real is that which can be proved by a column of figures. And when all aesthetic decisions are turned over to these kinds of people, who use these criteria to make steering decisions for a company with no regard for people and no regard for what the product really is, and the only thing that matters is maximizing your profit, you have a problem. Because you can't have quality then; you cannot have excellence. Quality's expensive. I think most of these people that come from business schools have the desire to make sure everything is cheesy. That's what happens when you do things that way." - FZ

      http://home.online.no/~corneliu/mother1.htm [online.no]
      • by Kingkaid ( 2751527 ) on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @04:56PM (#45475971)
        I am an MBA and I agree with him comments to a degree. A lot of my classmates did not think. As a graduate myself I question how anyone thinks they can run a company entirely with numbers and figures - it just doesn't work. There is a personal aspect to things since humans are not machines (at least not yet ;). I am of the belief that it is my job to manage people, and by that I mean shield them from the crap above so that they can do their job. Then again I am humble enough to know when I am over my head and ask the people that actually know their shit or have to deal with it on the daily basis. Then again, this could be said for ANY degree or practice. I knew many pharmacists who were huge on always giving a drug to treat when sometimes removing drugs was a better solution. I also know many self proclaimed IT gurus who think they know best but have never actually sat down with an end user to figure out how to enable them to work better.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @05:19PM (#45476233)

          Agree 100%. An MBA is not bad. The problem with people who have MBAs is the bar is relatively low to get into an MBA program compared to say getting into a graduate Physics program. However, there are idiots in Physics just as there are idiots with MBAs, you just don't hear about the idiots with Physics degrees because they don't get very far, whereas with MBAs I think companies still don't quite understand how to gauge and apply them.

          I have an MBA. I manage people too. There were a LOT of idiots in my MBA program too, and I work with several idiots with MBAs. But my MBA also taught me some useful skills. Marketing is an art and a science; things like knowing how your customers buy things, positioning your product correctly, where/how/when to communicate to your customers through advertising that your product is available and can solve their problem is not intuitive. Operations planning and Supply Chain Management are critical to every company, and yet there are many ways to do things, and often the ways that people think are the right ways are actually the most expensive ways.

          I work in operations and supply chain. In my company, I have obsoleted two jobs and am working on my third, and all of them were my own. In every case we had different people in those positions, and in every case I was able to improve it so it required fewer, less educated people or was entirely automated; once complete they put me in another area. All the people around those processes had their busy-work reduced and they could focus on money-making decisions, which improves profitability. Not a single person was laid off, we just got more out of everyone. That's the value of an MBA.

      • Perhaps my age is showing, but back in my day it was sort of rare for someone, like me, with a Finance degree to get an MBA. We might go on to a Masters in the same discipline, or a sister discipline, like Logistics or Statistics, AKA a "Real Master's," if a higher degree were our like. The MBA candidates were people with Science, Engineering, even Music degrees who wanted to go into business.

        Now, with that background laid, I can say from experience with MBA students that I would not hire 99% of those I
  • Common Ground (Score:2, Insightful)

    by CanHasDIY ( 1672858 )

    Finally, something Musk and I actually agree on.

    MBA == waste of time and money.

    • Re:Common Ground (Score:4, Insightful)

      by schnell ( 163007 ) <me.schnell@net> on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @04:16PM (#45475441) Homepage

      News flash: highly successful engineer who did not go to business school thinks business school is a waste.

      Shocking update: highly successful businessperson who went to business school thinks engineers don't know what they're talking about.

      This is pretty normal... the path you took to get where you are starts to look like the best or only path. There is room for all specialties and approaches when used in the right way and mixed with other viewpoints.

      • Re:Common Ground (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ericloewe ( 2129490 ) on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @04:50PM (#45475901)

        I can tell you one thing:

        If a businessperson ever doubts an engineer, they are most certainly not highly successful.

      • Re:Common Ground (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @05:05PM (#45476063)

        Engineers make things. Businesspeople hoard money. Of course they both think they are right... but one of them is.

      • Re:Common Ground (Score:4, Insightful)

        by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @05:08PM (#45476109)

        This is pretty normal... the path you took to get where you are starts to look like the best or only path. There is room for all specialties and approaches when used in the right way and mixed with other viewpoints.

        I quite agree with you. However, there's a subtle irony to including "business" majors here.

        A century ago, there really were no "business majors" in college. If you went to college, but you were a rich kid who hoped to work in your father's business someday or whatever, you might be a history major or an English lit major, or maybe even something that sounds more exotic today, like classics or art history. If you were inclined toward the sciences, you might even concentrate in biology or chemistry, while getting your overall "liberal arts" perspective.

        Nowadays, many universities see the largest number of undergraduates majoring in "business." At some schools, nearly half or more undergraduates are primarily instructed in "business," rather than one out of many disciplines that was traditionally part of the "liberal arts" perspective in college.

        I'm not arguing that we should get rid of business majors or reinstitute some old-school liberal arts curriculum. But, it's very clear that the modern "business major" has actually done more than just about any other discipline in reducing the number and variety of "specialities and approaches when used in the right way and mixed with other viewpoints" that you might encounter among college-educated people.

        The sheer dominance of the business major actually has tended to reduce the very thing that the parent poster says we should value.

    • But, if Tesla fails and SpaceX succeeds, I think that will be a solid proof that MBA challenges are actually more significant than "rocket science" physics.

      Even without the success/failure results of either company, the challenges Elon has faced in Tesla are a clear demonstration of what MBAs (and Lawyers and Lobbyists) are good for - success in the real world.

      OTOH, we need a Lawyer / Lobbyist / Broker tax now, and we need it badly. There are too damn many parasites in this world, and precious few of us ac

      • Re:Common Ground (Score:5, Insightful)

        by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @04:38PM (#45475739) Journal
        " the challenges Elon has faced in Tesla are a clear demonstration of what MBAs (and Lawyers and Lobbyists) are good for - success in the real world."

        While this is true, I suspect that what he sees (and dislikes) about the fact is that MBAs (and especially lawyers and lobbyists) are necessary tools in much the same way that soldiers are: they fight with the other guy's MBAs, lawyers, and lobbyists, laying waste to much real value in the process; because the alternative of having the other guy's MBAs, lawyers, and lobbyists march in unopposed is even worse.

        Engineers, scientists, and the like, by contrast, get sent out to prod the obnoxiously complex and notoriously noncompliant laws of nature into enough semblance of obedience that they can be put to good use.

        Obviously, there is value to having a good lawyer, or a good army, at your back; because there are others out there who have the same, and don't have your best interests at heart; but there is a certain tragedy in watching men, time, and money, get thrown into the meatgrinder in order to keep two adversaries off one another's backs; while there is a certain triumph in seeing the application of human effort bring new areas of nature within the scope of human understanding and utility.
  • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @03:51PM (#45475193)

    Years ago I read a book called The 12 Hour MBA Program [amazon.com]. I have never met an MBA who knew something important about business that wasn't in that book.

    • by CubicleZombie ( 2590497 ) on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @04:21PM (#45475511)

      Years ago I read a book called The 12 Hour MBA Program [amazon.com]. I have never met an MBA who knew something important about business that wasn't in that book.


      That's twice as fast as all my programming books!

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      Don't worry, the MBA has read this [amazon.com] and feels exactly the same about you. It goes so well with the law degree most /.ers have, you do know they call it the soft and hard sciences, not easy and hard sciences right? I'd call it the corollary to the Dunning-Kruger effect, the more you excel in one narrow field the more you think you could wing it in everything else. It's why professors are pretty obnoxious to relate to and a lot of IT people are the same just because they know how to command a machine around bu

      • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @05:31PM (#45476365)

        You are presuming that "knowing about business" is synonymous with "having an MBA". You don't need an MBA to understand ROI. Any non-retarded engineer can understand ROI with a two minute explanation. Other business concepts can also be learned quickly by anyone trained in logical problem solving. Engineers are trained to balance energy and mass using "in - out = accumulation", and quickly "get" that the same applies to money. An astonishing number of accountants don't think that way, and just blindly apply memorized formulas where they don't apply. Companies run by CEOs with engineering degrees are more likely to be successful than companies run by CEOs with only an MBA.

        • Any non-retarded engineer can understand ROI with a two minute explanation.

          Any engineer would have spent a semester learning all about it (probably in the same project management class where he learned about engineering economics, "value engineering," Gantt charts etc.).

          CS majors might not know about it, but that's because they're not engineers. (I know this because I have a CS degree and a real engineering degree.)

    • Years ago I read a book called The 12 Hour MBA Program [amazon.com]. I have never met an MBA who knew something important about business that wasn't in that book.

      I read a book once about the alphabet. I too have yet to meet someone that speaks English that knew something important that didn't use the pieces found in that book.

  • I tend to dislike the celebrity business owners, but the more I hear Musk talk the more I like him.

  • by garcia ( 6573 ) on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @03:53PM (#45475223)

    As a one-time worker bee who is now a part of senior management (with an MPA and not an MBA, although they are pretty similar) I understand what he is saying but I disagree that people should have a better chance of being hired because they have the three letters next to their name.

    I hire for open reqs based on the PERSON and their SKILLSET, not the degree they may or may not hold. You know, the way it should be. What Musk is promoting through another one of his ridiculous soundbites is that we should pay more attention to degrees (good or bad) than the skills someone brings along with them.

    Musk can be absolutely brilliant and incredibly and insanely stupid all at the same time.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ElSergio ( 1956248 )
      If you read the actual article (and even the snippet above) it says you have a better chance being hired at HIS companies if you do not have one, based on the percentage of his upper level business people and the degrees they hold. Also in the original interview he goes on to state exactly what you are saying, that he hires based on skillset, and in his opinion the people without MBAs tend to be the more eligible candidates if you ignore degree. His hireing practices are based more on what have you done, ra
      • by garcia ( 6573 )

        I did read the article and while I had a typo in the first line of my comment, I think it's silly that he says he would be less likely to hire someone with an MBA.

    • One of the things I've learned over the years, is that an MBA does nothing except prove that a worker has jumped through a set of hoops, like a good doggie. This is useful information to a degree, meaning the person is trainable and given a set of goals is likely to attain them.

      What a MBA does not prove is how successful they will be running any business, that comes from experience, which is the best education I've ever had. But my degree means nothing to me today, simply because it is not relevant at all a

    • I hire for open reqs based on the PERSON and their SKILLSET, not the degree they may or may not hold.

      Musk is essentially saying the same thing. However, where someone else with that philosophy would tend to think positively about an MBA (even though it wasn't an essential or bottom line requirement), he thinks negatively about it. However he did say he would hire people with MBA's anyway, if they met his other requirements.

    • we should pay more attention to degrees (good or bad) than the skills someone brings along with them.

      Actually he said:

      M: [An MBA program] teaches people all sorts of wrong things. ...
      M: I hire people in spite of an MBA, not because of one.

      So, he hires people who have the skills he needs, basically overlooking the (mis)education. I do see his point about a misallocation of resources (MBA school) but young kids might be forgiven for believing that it's worthwhile. On the other hand, I know some "I can't get

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @03:59PM (#45475275)

    I have many degrees that put letters after my name, including an MBA. I still remember how one of my professors railed on the MBA because all it did was enshrine "spreadsheet thinking," ruined creative thinking, make people more susceptible to buzz-word thinking, make dumb people feel smart, make them better at smart CYAs for dumb decisions and about 5 other criticisms that currently escape me. He even called them the "Middle-manager's Business Accreditation" because people at the top cannot behave that way, or they ruin companies, so most MBAs won't make it there for long; and the people at the top love MBAs at the middle level because the top brass are not limited by the MBA's decisions and know how to control them.

  • Maybe not in his mind, but definitely in mine. The 'thought-path' that ends up in a certification is not something I want to encourage. Perhaps if it were more like an RPG, and a certain amount of 'XP' resulted in a new certification rank.

  • Dungeons and Dragons (Score:5, Informative)

    by Piata ( 927858 ) on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @04:00PM (#45475291)
    I think the most important thing from this interview is that Musk played D&D and is a self professed nerd.
  • by ebno-10db ( 1459097 ) on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @04:04PM (#45475333)

    According to Musk, 'I hire people in spite of an MBA'.

    What's that, he doesn't like mindless groupthink, and the inability to understand the difference between a rule of thumb and actual thought, judgement and understanding of reality? No wonder the guy is a failure.

  • by Alomex ( 148003 ) on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @04:08PM (#45475367) Homepage

    MBAs on paper are supposed to teach you a lot of useful things. In practice most students walk away with one thing in their mind: how to cut costs to a minimum even if it drives the business to the ground so long as they collect their bonus before it does so.

    You can read all about it from Henry Mintzberg [wikipedia.org] who is a Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at the Desautels Faculty of Management of McGill University, and has spent the last two decades trying to fix the present MBA mess.

    His book "Managers not MBAs" is a must read for anyone thinking about hiring an MBA.

    • by segmond ( 34052 )

      Kinda of like computer science, it's suppose to teach a lot of useful things. Yet most people get a degree and can't write a freaking linked list from scratch, let alone implement trees. If you are lucky, they might be able to write up a simple sorting algorithm. Titles mean nothing, output is the only thing that counts in this world. MBA, CS Degree, any certification, whatever.

  • by endoboy ( 560088 ) on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @04:09PM (#45475379)

    Successful business leader XXX announces that his college program (or lack thereof) is better than any other....

  • by DontBlameCanada ( 1325547 ) on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @04:15PM (#45475435)
    And a shit load of bad ones.

    This good ones, were excellent technically then took what they learned in MBA in terms of business functions and applied them in a way the made everyone more effective and productive. The bad ones tended to be poor performers in their chosen fields who ran to an MBA as a way to avoid working on technical details that they couldn't comprehend.

    The worst were smart, but evil. They took an MBA as a fast path to management, where they gulled their peers with enough technical know how to achieve their dreams of power and influence. The more power they got, the less tolerant they became of other "smart guys." They were viewed as threats that might expose potential technical short comings in the MBA's plans.
  • uses bias to judge people news at 11

    • by Burz ( 138833 )

      uses bias to judge people news at 11

      Oh, the irony of sympathizing with those who judge for profit.

  • by Ogive17 ( 691899 ) on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @04:43PM (#45475811)
    I do not put much value in an MBA either despite the fact I am currently pursuing one. My circumstance is that my employer partnershiped with a university to offer 1/2 off tuition and I get an additional $3k reimbursement from my employer each year. End result is I will pay about $6k out of my pocket... too good of an opportunity to pass up.

    Most of the material has been common sense, in my opinion. The organizational leadership classes have been interesting. Right now I'm in a class that focuses on ethics and sustainability. Nothing to this point has been about cutting costs for temporary increase in profit. There is plenty of talk about efficiency, though.. but that is a necessity for a business to survive.

    I plan to use my MBA to make a point in future job interviews - I am willing to take that step to continue learning. Regardless of the overall usefulness of the degree, it does take dedication to juggle my current job, school, and helping raise my 9 month old son.
    • by klui ( 457783 )

      Pretty sure if MBAs were running Tesla, they would have waited for lawsuits filed for the fires before they did anything, let alone giving customers a free retrofit by mere recommendation rather than mandate from the NHTSA. It's just running the numbers, where goodwill and customer satisfaction is difficult to measure in a spreadsheet.

  • by angel'o'sphere ( 80593 ) on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @05:07PM (#45476097) Journal

    While he walks through the dining room of the restaurant he realizes: "this is the profit center!"
    Now he turns to the kitchen and realizes: "this is the cost center!"
    Guess which part gets closed first and who gers fired ...

    • HA! Like an MBA would make that sort of rookie mistake.

      No, no, no. The only profit centers in a business are management and possibly sales. At least, according to management and sales.

  • by gestalt_n_pepper ( 991155 ) on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @05:09PM (#45476117)

    Here's the MBA worldview:

    1) If it doesn't exist on a spreadsheet, it doesn't exist.
    2) You don't have to know the details of the business to run it.
    3) Productivity is what we say it is.
    4) Everything is measured in money. The physical world barely matters.

    MBAs seem to share this worldview with those ever accurate, johny-on-the-spot folks commonly known as "economists." They know everything too.

  • by weilawei ( 897823 ) on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @05:22PM (#45476259) Homepage
    "Of necessity, physics had to develop a framework of thinking that would allow understanding counter-intuitive elements of reality. Something like quantum physics is not very intuitive, and in order to make progress, physics essentially evolved a framework of thinking that was very effective for coming to correct answers that are not obvious. And in order to do this, it requires quite a lot of mental exertion. One cannot conduct one's everyday life reasoning from first principles; it would just require too much mental energy. So I think you have to operate most of your life with reasoning by analogy or essentially copying other people with minor variations. But if you are trying to break new ground and be really innovative, that's where you have to apply first-principle thinking and try to identify the most fundamental truths in any particular arena and you reason up from there. This requires quite a bit of mental exertion and I can give you some examples of how this helps one in the rocket business."

    "I had an existential crisis when I was 12 or 13, and [was] trying to figure out what does it all mean, why are we here, is it all meaningless, that sort of thing. I came to the conclusion that the best thing we can do is try to improve the scope and scale of consciousness and gain greater enlightenment which will in turn allow us to ask better and better questions, because obviously the universe is the answer, so what is the question? All questions, I suppose.""

    "A lot of people in physics are concerned about expenditures on manned space flight because they are not sure what's the point. Generally I would agree: if we were just going to bounce around in low Earth orbit, it's questionable whether it's worth the expense. However, if one considers the objective to become a space-faring civilization and a multi-planet species, I think that physicists should support that because it increases the probable lifespan of humanity dramatically, and dramatically increases the scope and scale of civilization, which in turn is what will lead to greater enlightenment in physics and other arenas. "

    Slashdot fortune: "Forty two."
  • by DaMattster ( 977781 ) on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @06:33PM (#45476929)
    and makes me think that there is still hope. MBAs destroy innovation, motivation, and productivity in the name of short term profits. MBAs represent modern scorched earth business tactics. Profit in the short term and destroy a thriving business in the long term. I run my own consulting business and an MBA is my weedout criteria - have MBA, will not travel.
  • by quax ( 19371 ) on Wednesday November 20, 2013 @08:45PM (#45477913)

    After my physics degree I thought it would be a good idea to learn something about business so I got an MBA.

    While at business school I couldn't believe the crap they teach there. Especially the believe in the efficient market hypothesis is a joke.

    But it wasn't all a waste of money. Having to get everything done as part of a diverse team, while being swamped with work, did prepare me well for consulting, and according to my wife markedly improved my social skills :-)

We all like praise, but a hike in our pay is the best kind of ways.