Elon Musk’s Estimated 155 IQ: A Key to His Unprecedented Success?

Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive updates from Your Next Shoes. This post may contain affiliate links. Please see our disclosure for more details.

There is no doubt that Elon Musk is both brilliant and an incredibly successful businessman. Although Amber Heard’s ex-boyfriend has not been tested, his IQ is estimated and generally accepted to be around 155.

This is based on early aptitude tests, his ability to understand and apply complicated technical information, and his unique use of information to change complex industries.

Elon Musk smoked a marijuana joint while recording the 'Joe Rogan Experience' podcastElon Musk smoked a marijuana joint while recording the ‘Joe Rogan Experience’ podcast on September 7, 2018 (Credit: Andres Otero / WENN / Joe Newman / PinPep / Apega / SpaceX / Cover Images)

As a reference, the average IQ is 100, with most people falling between 85 and 115. Around 98% of the population is below 130, with notable intellects such as Einstein and Hawking having had IQs of around 160.

But was Musk’s intelligence enough to propel him to the top of multiple industries, or are other factors at play?

The Making of a Visionary: Tracing Elon Musk’s Journey to Success

The NY Times described Elon Musk as “the most successful and important entrepreneur in the world.” He is the founder, CEO, CTO, and chief designer of Space X; the CEO and product architect at Tesla, Inc.; the founder of The Boring Company and the co-founder of Neuralink and OpenAI; and the creator of Solar City, a solar energy company that is now a Tesla subsidiary.

He is possibly the only person to have started four billion-dollar companies: PayPal, Space X, Tesla, and Solar City. How did this happen, and what qualities helped him achieve everything he has done?

Iconic mural of David Attenborough and Elon Musk appears in ShoreditchIconic mural of David Attenborough and Elon Musk appears in Shoreditch to celebrate the launch of Mindspace Shoreditch – a new upscale and inspiring coworking space in London, England, on June 28, 2018 (Credit: Andres Otero / WENN / Joe Newman / PinPep / Apega / SpaceX / Cover Images)

Early Ventures: The Building Blocks of a Billion-Dollar Empire

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Musk revealed he was a bright and curious child left alone with minimal supervision.

“I just had a housekeeper who was there to make sure I didn’t break anything. She wasn’t, like, watching me. I was off making explosives and reading books and building rockets and doing things that could have gotten me killed. I was raised by books. Books, and then my parents.”

Musk’s high IQ was evident from the start. At 17, he went to university and got two bachelor’s degrees in economics and physics. He then won a scholarship to Stanford to get a Ph.D. in Energy Physics.

But this was where other facets of his personality started to change things for him. After two days at the university, Musk asked for a deferment.

He wanted to start a software company called Zip2 with his brother Kimbal. Expecting the company to fail, Musk planned on continuing his Ph.D. afterward. However, it didn’t fail and was so successful that it ended up being sold for $340 million.

With the money from Zip2, Musk realized he no longer needed to study when he could, instead, channel his intellect and IQ into subjects that fascinated him. He started X.com, which then acquired what became PayPal.

Maye Musk and her son Elon Musk attend the 2017 Vanity Fair Oscar PartyMaye Musk and her son Elon Musk attend the 2017 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Graydon Carter at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 26, 2017, in Beverly Hills, California (Credit: Andres Otero / WENN / Joe Newman / PinPep / Apega / SpaceX / Cover Images)

When that was sold to eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002, he could finally follow his interests. That year, he founded Space X, and two years later, he joined Tesla Motors, Inc. Two years after that, in 2006, he helped create the solar energy company SolarCity.

In May 2018, Elon Musk and Claire Elise Boucher, a Canadian musician known professionally as Grimes, made their red carpet debut together as a couple at the Met Gala.

Grimes and Elon Musk attend “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion & the Catholic Imagination”, the 2018 Costume Institute Benefit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 7, 2018, in New York City (Credit: Andres Otero / WENN / Joe Newman / PinPep / Apega / SpaceX / Cover Images)

She wore a Tesla logo collar with a dress that the couple designed together over a dinner date. According to Us Weekly, they commissioned a team to create her futuristic ensemble.

Beyond Genius: Unpacking the Multifaceted Success of Elon Musk

Clearly, Elon Musk has a high IQ and is excellent at business. An article in Science News for Students describes IQ tests as predicting “how well people will do in particular situations, such as thinking abstractly in science, engineering or art. Or leading teams of people. [E]xtra categories include ambition, persistence, opportunity, the ability to think clearly.”

This isn’t guaranteed. Plenty of people with high IQs have not found success. Being smart means things are easier, but nothing is a given.

Talulah Riley and Elon Musk attend the 2012 Environmental Media AwardsTalulah Riley and Elon Musk attend the 2012 Environmental Media Awards at Warner Bros. Studios on September 29, 2012, in Burbank, California (Credit: Andres Otero / WENN / Joe Newman / PinPep / Apega / SpaceX / Cover Images)

What he also has going for him is an ambition to change the world, the ability to see things in a way that others don’t, and a drive to learn.

It is telling that Musk doesn’t describe himself as a businessman or entrepreneur. He describes himself as a “technologist”, an engineer, and inventor. He invests in and develops billion-dollar industries to make things better for other people.

His IQ is a tool he uses to achieve more altruistic and ambitious goals. In Rolling Stone, he said, “I try to do useful things… And useful means it is of value to the rest of society.” He then added, “I think we should try to make the future better.”

Again, lofty ideals and a high IQ don’t necessarily equate to Musk’s success. His brother Kimbal, with whom he started his first company, helps explain one aspect that sets Musk apart, namely his vision and ability to see things clearly.

“He’s able to see things more clearly in a way that no one else I know of can understand. There’s a thing in chess where you can see 12 moves ahead if you’re a grandmaster. And in any particular situation, Elon can see things 12 moves ahead.”

SpaceX's first Falcon Heavy rocketSpaceX’s first Falcon Heavy rocket took off on its inaugural test launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 3:45 p.m. EST (2045 GMT) on February 6, 2018 (Credit: Andres Otero / WENN / Joe Newman / PinPep / Apega / SpaceX / Cover Images)

Many have noted this ability to see clearly and identify future needs. Warren Buffet’s right-hand man, the investor Charlie Munger, has occasionally been critical and has publicly discussed Musk’s “daredevil business lifestyle.”

The famously risk-averse Munger has, however, admitted in interviews that “Musk has made a career out of building businesses that provide services which many people never thought were possible,” and adding, “Elon Musk is a man that’s heralding the cause of bringing humanity into the future.”

This picture captures the moment internet tycoon Elon Musk's private rocket successfully blasted into outer space – after three aborted missionsThis picture captures the moment internet tycoon Elon Musk’s private rocket successfully blasted into outer space – after three aborted missions (Credit: Andres Otero / WENN / Joe Newman / PinPep / Apega / SpaceX / Cover Images)

One of SpaceX’s founding members, Jim Cantrell, responded on Quora when a 15-year-old asked how to achieve success similar to Elon Musk’s without necessarily having the same level of intelligence.

There is no doubt in my mind that intelligence is only a fraction of the ingredients needed to be successful. In fact, I would say that intelligence is more of a tool that enables you to be successful rather than an ingredient itself. I have spent many years as a consultant, advisor to venture funds, advising numerous billionaires, serving as a Board Director and as an advisor to tech companies. I also have six children. Through these experiences, I have seen many things that help people succeed and many things that lead them to failure. However, the successes were all based on a single simple formula. Success is based on a convergence of three simple things:

  1. Do what you are passionate about. Without passion, your work is not your love and you can never be your best or be better than others who are running with their passion.
  2. Do something that you are inherently good or talented at. We all have our relative talents but spending your life doing something that is inherently more difficult puts you at a disadvantage to other more talented people.
  3. Do something that creates value and can be sold into a market present or future. Creating a widget that nobody wants but you may be self satisfying, but it certainly is not going to make you your fortune nor lead you to personal or professional success.

Notice that money is not an ingredient in any of these factors nor is intelligence. Admittedly, higher intelligence makes some fields (maybe rockets for example) easier to learn but by and large these ingredients are never a major factor in success. If you combine these three elements into your pursuits in life, you will be very successful and the money will come on its own. Money is a reflection of the true value that you are creating.

How does this relate to Elon ? When he came to me in 2001, he knew nothing of rockets or space exploration but he was deeply passionate about it. In fact, he was so passionate about the need to ‘make humanity a multi-planetary species’ that he was willing to spend a very large portion of his fortune on it. But because he was intelligent, he knew that he needed rockets to launch probes into space. To prolong his money supply, he needed to buy the cheapest rockets available. Hence his interest in Russian launch vehicles. Once he understood the space market a bit better, he saw that there was also an enormous opportunity to disrupt the launch vehicle market. He was thus led to the conclusion that his time and money might be better spent ‘solving the launch problem’ as he put it back then than ‘throwing away my fortune in some Russian warehouse’.

SpaceX was born after Elon spent some time with John Garvey (a co-founder of my new company Vector) who was building amatuer liquid launch vehicles in his garage at the time. While this seemed like an insane endeavor and John’s neighbors worried about him, Elon saw the brilliance in it and decided that John’s small rockets were an existence proof of something much bigger. Elon knew that if a small band of Space Cowboys like John could build a 30 foot tall liquid rocket with left over beer money and regular machine tools, great things were possible with big money, a great team and lots of hard work. This is where SpaceX was born.

SpaceX was not an obvious success in the early days. Clearly Elon and the team he recruited were passionate about building a low cost launcher. Clearly we were good at it. And clearly there was a market. However, most of the world was betting against Elon from the outside. This skepticism was born of a bit of conceit on the part of the big aerospace concerns who thought that ‘nobody can do better than us and especially not a band of Space Cowboys like SpaceX’. There were also questions of Elon’s motivations and basic honesty brought up by the skeptics. Others in the industry confided in me at the time that they thought Elon was fundamentally dishonest and making promises that he couldn’t keep.

I left SpaceX after about a year because I too doubted SpaceX’s ability to succeed with the amount of money they had raised (and I could not conceive of raising more). I also did not share Elon’s passion for colonizing Mars as I regarded it to be a fool’s errand as it would never happen in my lifetime. I was wrong on both counts. Elon did succeed in the end and it was because he never counted himself out. He never gave up. He kept going. He knew that he had the three ingredients and he kept upping the ante every time that he faced an obstacle or failure.

This leads me to what I personally think is the most important personal attribute for success. Its not intelligence. It’s not being educated. It’s not even experience. It’s simply a determination to never ever give up. That is the most important element of success: dogged determination. One of my favorite quotes along these lines is from Garth Stein, author of the book Racing in the Rain.

“A winner, a champion, will accept his fate. He will continue with his wheels in the dirt. He will do his best to maintain his line and gradually get himself back on the track when it is safe to do so. Yes, he loses a few places in the race. Yes, he is at a disadvantage. But he is a winner, a champion, and will accept his fate. He is still racing. He is still alive”

May your race be a good one and may you find the winds of your passion to fuel it to a successful finish.

A Convergence of Intelligence and Perseverance: The Core Drivers of Elon Musk’s Success

It could be argued that Musk’s high IQ enables him to utilize other personality aspects combined to create the remarkable success he has achieved. Undoubtedly, he is smart, and his keen intelligence allows him to identify opportunities that others can’t.

He takes what many see as risks but are arguably the result of his ability to spot ways to achieve his lofty ambitions of making the world a better place.

Musk is driven and passionate about his work, and his intelligence complements this drive. This blend of abilities has led to his remarkable achievements.

As Cantrell says, looking back, “Elon did succeed in the end and it was because he never counted himself out. He never gave up. He kept going.” Musk’s high IQ and desire to change the world are potent forces.