How to Apply Elon Musk’s Engineering Philosophy to Your Business

September 06, 2021
William Miller
Elon Musk's Engineering Philosophy

or, How you can improve your business using FileMaker Pro

There was an interesting article in Lucept: ( ) about Elon Musk and his engineering philosophy. I will summarize the five main points from his philosophy here, and then talk about how at HighPower Data Solutions, using FileMaker Pro, we can apply this same philosophy to improve your business! Now you have to take this with the understanding that Elon is addressing manufacturing, whereas at HighPower, we are addressing in most cases software project workflows. But there is a lot of overlap, and it will be fun to compare. So here we go with the five points:

1. “Make the requirements less dumb”

I love this one, as it expresses it very simply. What does Elon mean by this? Elon makes statements like this: “Everyone’s wrong. No matter who you are, everyone is wrong some of the time,” and “all designs are wrong, it’s just a matter of how wrong.” I think we are talking about something like ‘question your assumptions’, and ‘don’t take it all wholesale’. We need to pause a bit when somebody tells you that ‘it must be done this way’. “Oh really? Why is that?” is a simple enough question that will cause us to stop and examine the whole process.

If your company has been doing it the same way for the last five years, it is time to re-examine what you are doing and why you are doing it. A lot has changed, especially in the world of software technology. Let’s examine exactly what you are doing, and see if there is a better way to do it.

This is why we recommend that clients do a ‘data workflow interview’ with us. What is that? Simply an informal discussion with us about how you do business. As outsiders, we can ask the questions about why things are done a certain way and maybe spur your thinking about how you run things. We have a motto on our website that “There is a better way to run your business.” We believe that by applying automated systems, many times using FileMaker Pro, but sometimes just using websites, as well as business intelligence displays, we can make things easier for the CEO, owner, or operations manager of most businesses.

2. “Try very hard to delete the part or process”

The article states that, “Musk noted that the bias tends to be very strongly toward ‘let’s add this part or process step in case we need it.'” In the world of software development, this happens all the time. Too often developers try to cover every possible contingency, such as wondering what is every possible error that anybody could possibly make when entering this data. The better question is ‘what are the likely errors which could occur during data entry’. Because if you try to program for every possible error, you will end up wasting a lot of your client’s money; whereas if you program for likely errors, you will save time, money, and stress on your employees.

So ask yourself what steps of your workflow process can be either deleted or merged with other parts to streamline the process. This is one of the not-so-secret part’s of Apple’s success; they constantly ask what can be removed from either their hardware or software to simplify the process. When we use FileMaker Pro as a digital hub for a business, we find that many times, various software services for which the client is paying, can go away as they are merged into a centralized and automated system.

3. “Simplify and optimize the design”

What’s true in engineering design is often true in software design. When building good software, we do not have to have every single possible button or action visible at all times. We should only display what is needed at the moment; kind of a ‘just in time’ process transferred from inventory management into software design. Show the client just what s/he is likely to need right then on that particular layout. If they might need to do something else, then hide it in a popover and make it visible when needed, but not before. Otherwise, the screen is cluttered up with too many buttons, gizmo’s, and gadgets; kind of like a software version of the old main frame computers from sci-fi shows in the ’60’s, with every possible blinking light, and levers, and dials, and knobs, all out in front, cluttering up the display.

When we automate using FileMaker Pro, we have a lot of tools at our disposal which allow us to hide what does not need to be seen, and only display what is needed at the time. We can use popovers, card windows, drop-downs; we can hide elements not needed, or immediately display them if the user types in, or taps on certain objects onscreen.

So there are steps we can take to simplify and optimize the design of your custom business software built with FileMaker Pro.

4. “Accelerate cycle time”

Elon says that once you have the first three steps in place, you are now probably moving too slow. So he encourages companies to work faster once they have the basics in place.

There is an interesting life cycle in place for most software design. Many times the order of development will proceed this way for large projects:

  1. Functionality
  2. Efficiency
  3. Speed

First the basic functionality needs to be in place. We need to make sure that the automated business software does what the client needs it to do. Then once that specification has been met, then we can talk about ways to improve the efficiency, sometimes, for example, by putting a script onto a schedule so it executes at night. And finally, when functionality and efficiency are in place, we can figure out how to make it faster. We can shorten code, or move it up to the server, or execute a series of steps in bulk, rather than individually.

FileMaker Pro is an amazing software platform for building automated business solutions. It is extremely flexible to the needs of small to medium businesses. We have found that for our long-term clients, there is a constant process of tuning and speeding up what they need done for their essential system. And FileMaker is the tool to make this happen.

5. “Automate”

And this last one, I totally love, because it is what we are all about at HighPower Data. The name of our eNewsletter is “Automate Your Business”. You can sign up for it here. In the business world, time is money. If we can automate systems for our clients, it will save them money. Our goal is to automate everything which can be automated so that the owners and employees can focus on their particular tasks of serving their customers or building their products.

So, it is fun to take a look into the mind of a genius like Elon Musk once in a while and try to learn from him.

FileMaker Pro is a great tool to automate your business. When we build you a software S.Y.S.T.E.M., it will Save You Stress, Time, Effort & Money.

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