The Musk effect? Research sheds light on how innovators choose their next career moves

Elon Musk

A desire to understand how innovators such as Elon Musk move from one project to the next has inspired new research into how innovative people determine their next career move, unearthing several trends.

Musk is well-known for his forays into online payments (PayPal), commercial spacecraft (SpaceX) and electric cars (Tesla), but how does a serial entrepreneur like Musk choose what to focus their energy on next?

Focusing on physicists and drawing on database information, Kellogg School of Management researchers analysed how the work of approximately 10,000 physicists changed from project to project.

The trends revealed most physicists’ research remained relatively constrained within particular disciplines or domains.

Physicists also tended to shift to new projects closely related to their most recent endeavours, rather than choosing projects aligned with their initial direction and starting out point.

According to Dashun Wang, Kellogg School associate professor of management and organisations, this flies in the face of a common intuition about innovators’ decision-making.

More time spent moving in one direction equates to pulling further ahead of the competition, and this reasoning points to there being more incentive to choose projects aligned with the initial direction.

Instead, Dashun noted, “what we find in the data is the other way around”.

“If you study something, the next topic you study is predominantly determined by what you studied last — not what you studied first,” he observed.

The researchers dub this behaviour as the “recency effect”. And while Musk himself may be considered an outlier, they say the recency effect also applies to the entrepreneur, pointing to commonalities between his ventures.

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Rohan Baker
Rohan Baker
4 years ago

This is hilarious. Musk is being touted as a great innovator, yet Tesla is making big losses, SpaceX is barely making a profit and all this is despite the fact that Musk has hoovered nearly USD 5 billion from taxpayers.

If being innovative is convincing gullible pollies in handing over Double-B loads of other peoples hard earned, then yes, he’s brilliant.

4 years ago
Reply to  Rohan Baker

I have obviously missed seeing your name amongst the great achievers of our day. If so I apologise for assuming that you have scant appreciation for the incredible drive and skill required to have brought those two companies to fruition and created two industries in the process. Not sure where you come by your USD 5 billion either.

4 years ago
Reply to  Rohan Baker

Some of your info is a bit dated. It would be interesting to see how much the tax payers save as a result of the cheaper SpaceX flights compared to the NASA costs.

As for tax incentives; any decent businessman worth his salt would look for tax incentives to create the scale of manufacturing operations Musk has. He is up against state backed enterprises in China where the government provides soft loans with zero interest or direct grants. And the encentives are open to all comers. Even if he crashes and burns he has created a whole new set of industries and changed the world.