Elon Musk is all about exploring possibilities. From his first venture, Zip2, a content publishing software, to Tesla Motors and SpaceX, the real-life Tony Stark (without the Iron Man suit, of course) is an exemplary businessman who can teach big-name CEOs a thing or two about running an empire while invariably helping small businesses on his way to tech stardom.
As co-founder of PayPal, Musk was instrumental in the success of the online-payment processor, which now helps more than 8 million businesses harness the power of e-commerce and sell their products via auction websites, blogs and their own online stores.
Musk is also chairman of SolarCity, a solar energy provider that Musk conceptualized (and was then founded by Peter and Lyndon Rive). The company has helped businesses implement green solutions, reduce their operating costs and qualify for government incentive programs and grants.
In a recent Google Hangout sponsored by Google for Entrepreneurs, Musk, along with Virgin Group's Richard Branson, showed his support for small businesses, urging the government to "foster the growth of other small businesses" and "shield them from big companies that will try to stamp them out."
The biggest way Musk has benefited small businesses, however, is by being an example, which has been particularly apparent in his most recent venture, the Hyperloop.
On Aug. 12, Musk unveiled the design for the Hyperloop, the super-high-speed transit system that could one day take passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes. Debates abound about whether the Hyperloop is just a bunch of hype. (Can it be built? Should it be built? Do we really need it to be built?) But the idea itself is enough to help others become better business owners.
What is most remarkable about the Hyperloop is not its futuristic design or revolutionary idea (the concept is nothing new), but rather what it reveals about Musk. Everyone already knows that Musk is a brilliant visionary, but his Hyperloop concept revealed more than just the transit system itself. It also demonstrated two key leadership and entrepreneurship qualities Musk possesses and that other business owners should emulate: the desire to make something better and the humility to mastermind an idea for others to execute.
First, Musk gave the world a perfect example of what it means to think beyond what people are told is possible while providing commentary on how politics can hinder technological and societal advancement.
In his 57-page Hyperloop Alpha white paper, Musk said, "When the California 'high-speed' rail was approved, I was quite disappointed, as I know many others were, too. How could it be that the home of Silicon Valley and JPL — doing incredible things like indexing all the world's knowledge and putting rovers on Mars — would build a bullet train that is both one of the most expensive per mile and one of the slowest in the world? … It would be great to have an alternative to flying or driving, but obviously only if it is actually better than flying or driving. The train in question would be both slower, more expensive to operate (if unsubsidized) and less safe by two orders of magnitude than flying, so why would anyone use it?"
He added, "If we are to make a massive investment in a new transportation system, then the return should, by rights, be equally massive. Compared to the alternatives, it should ideally be safer, faster, lower-cost, more convenient, immune to weather, sustainably self-powering, resistant to earthquakes, not disruptive to those along the route."
As Musk sees it, why settle for the status quo when there are better possibilities?
The second quality Musk demonstrated is his humility to develop and share his ideas with the world but then leave the idea for someone else to improve and act upon.
"Leaders today must be able to innovate AND execute well," wrote Randy Ottinger, executive vice president at Kotter International, a leadership acceleration firm, for Forbes.com. "They also need to know their limitations, when to step out of the way and when to allow others with the available capacity to lead. Today, the Hyperloop is just an idea. Given Musk's other priorities, it will be left (and has been offered) to others to execute."
Just as every entrepreneur should, Musk knows when to admit he can't do it all by himself.
"I think I kind of shot myself in the foot by ever mentioning the Hyperloop," he said in a previous Tesla earnings call. Stating that he has to focus on Tesla and SpaceX, Musk labeled the Hyperloop as a "low-priority" project and is leaving it as an open-source transportation system that others can keep improving upon and eventually execute.
For Musk, it's all about promoting innovation; he doesn't need to be involved in the execution of the idea. As an entrepreneur, just because you have a brilliant idea, it doesn't mean you have to be the one who gets it done — if your talents are better spent on other ventures, give others a chance to provide this new venture the dedication it needs and the justice it deserves.
Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.