Elon Musk and The Algorithm

newsletter Mar 02, 2024

After getting the Elon Musk biography in November, I finally finished it this week! Woohoo.

Say what you will about Elon, but there is no denying his companies continue to change the world.

Zip2, PayPal, Tesla, SpaceX, Neuralink, OpenAI, The Boring Company, and now Twitter/X are all impressive in their own right.

To have one person associated in a founder/CEO role with so many is almost beyond belief.

One interesting lesson from the book is something Elon calls The Algorithm.

Its one of the methods he uses to build revolutionary products and solve challenges on the cutting edge of engineering.

He repeats "The Algorithm" constantly to his teams so that it's become a mantra for how they operate.

And I couldn't help but notice the overlap "The Algorithm" has with what we do in the Salesforce space.

There are five steps:

  1. Question every requirement, then make the requirements less dumb
  2. Delete any part or process you can
  3. Simplify and Optimize
  4. Accelerate Cycle Time
  5. Automate 

1. Question every requirement, then make the requirement less dumb

 "Requirements from smart people are the most dangerous, because people are less likely to question them."

As Salesforce professionals, gathering requirements is a signficant portion of our job.

This step highlights the fact that we are not order takers (a trap I've fallen into more times than I can count). 

We're builders, architects, and visionaries. 

A new requirement from a business is likely flawed in some way. 

Our job is to find out what the business really needs instead of what they're asking for.

Done correctly, this builds trust.

2. Delete any part or process you can

This represents a bias for substracting rather than adding.

Less is more. Both with newly built features, and processes that have been in place a while.

If something can be deleted and Salesforce is still in good order, then the value of that thing is very small, perhaps even negative.

Proactively deleting unnecessary process steps, unneeded fields, old objects, old dashboards, unused reports, deprecated automation, etc. will keep your Salesforce environment clean.

Subtraction prevents technical debt.

"You may have to add back later. If you don't end up adding back 10% of the things you're deleting, then you didn't delete enough"

3. Simplify and Optimize

"A common mistake is to simplify and optimize a part or process that should not exist."

Elon stressed that step 3 must be done only after you follow step 2. 

Only once you've deleted everything you can do you want to focus on optimization.

Simplifying navigation, reducing the steps in common processes, and removing any and all "extra clicks" from the tasks your end users perform in Salesforce will make them love you.

Steps 2 and 3 go hand in hand with two famous questions from Harvey Firestone:

"Is it necessary?

"Can it be simplified?"

In my own career I'm guilty of building more and more new things, without ever returning to check on the how things I previously built were working.

I just get so excited to build new stuff!

This step is a good reminder to go back once in a while to do a performance tune up.

4. Accelerate Cycle Time

"Cycle time is a measure used in manufacturing and business processes to quantify the total time it takes to complete a single cycle of an operation. This includes the time from the start of a process or production step to its completion." - ChatGPT

This boils down to move faster.

This can be done in two ways:

  • By improving how quickly you are able to build new features yourself
  • By improving how quickly your end users can complete their own tasks

In both cases the cycle time of your company improves.

5. Automate

"This comes last. Only after all the requirements have been questioned, parts and processes deleted, and bugs are shaken out."

How many times have I jumped into building a Salesforce Flow as my first step?

A whole lot of times.

Too often I start with trying to automate.

Step 5 is a reminder that automation is important but only after completing the other four steps.


In summary, The Algorithm offers unique insight into how Elon builds some of the coolest technology on the planet.

And if it works to build rockets, autonomous cars, and brain implants then there's definitely some value to us using it while we build Salesforce.





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