" Wu”-based cognition is the root of creative thinking, directly connected with strategic thinking in entrepreneurship and innovation. Only " Wu”-based cognition, which helps generate insights by integrating rationality with experience, can enable entrepreneurs and innovators to see the holistic and dynamic picture of business reality. Based on the inherent link between metaphor and innovation from the perspective of Chinese traditional approach of " Wu”-based cognition, we focus on the unique case of Elon Musk so as to develop an integrative framework of " Wu”-based cognition by blending the eastern and western elements. With the secondary data from the video interviews and public speeches of Elon Musk, we have identified four metaphors pertaining to his cognitive style, including " chewing glass and staring into the abyss”, " knowledge as a semantic tree”, " cross-specialization connection”, and " first principle”. Further, we have matched these four metaphors with the four core characteristics of " Wu”-based cognition, i.e., " letting go”, " mindful observation”, " generative metaphor” and " creative insights”. The main finding is that metaphor is the most effective cognitive approach for " Wu”-based cognition. In order to integrate highly fragmented senses and judgments, innovators rely on not only logical deduction and experiential induction, but also metaphor-led way of thinking, which is based on rich imaginations toward " wisdom” （as a balance between knowing and doubting） by looking inward with subconscious mindfulness and conscious mindlessness（e.g., often resulting from mediation）, to facilitate the insight into the essence of issues through the previously unnoticed subtle links, and also foresee and create future opportunities as possibilities or potentialities. Specifically, first of all, being confronted with the high failure rate in entrepreneurial innovation, Elon Musk has a strong will power. He believes that innovation is " chewing the glass, while staring into the abyss”. After each failure, he can always let the past go and restart with a beginner’s mind so as to continue the challenging mission he commits as critical to the future of mankind. Second, Elon Musk loves reading with a special focus on the problems and challenges he is up against, but he has a broad interest and constantly learn about diverse domains of knowledge. He gradually deepens his understanding via the construction of primary and secondary relationships between various bodies of knowledge across different domains, and generates a dynamic tree of diverse meanings in a whole picture, which helps him to cultivate the capability of strategic situational awareness and the keen sensitivity about current and future events. Third, being confronted with the complex business and technological situations, even as a non-professional layman in certain fields, he does not blindly exploit the easy pattern of imitation, but explores the creative solution through a rapid and practical learning. With a broad technological vision and rich imagination, he develops the capability of cross-domain mapping, interactive integration and cross-specialization across different professional boundaries in a flexible and practical manner. This leads to his endless streams of inspirations toward radical innovations. This process matches the cognitive model of " Wu”-based thinking. Finally, in pursuit of probing the problem of business world, Elon Musk takes advantage of his knowledge base as an specialist-generalist hybrid who would rather master one underlying or higher-order principle above and beyond the diverse lower-order principles by mediating between different parties, gaining specialty through a broad horizon, and breaking down a complex whole into simplified （thus manageable） parts. He captures previously unknown delicate interconnections to obtain insights as a broad guidance for creative alternatives, i.e., the so-called " first principle”. The " first principle” that he repeatedly mentions is one of his core insights manifested in " simple rule”. At the same time, he is also good at crossing the " knowledge world” and the " action world” by applying the simple rules to different domains as an essence of the reality. The key implications of the four metaphors from the perspective of " Wu”-based thinking are discussed.
Wu-based Thinking Integrating the East with the West: The Analysis of Elon Musk’s Four Metaphors
Foreign Economics & Management Vol. 40, Issue 01, pp. 124 - 140 (2018) DOI:10.16538/j.cnki.fem.2018.01.009
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Cite this article
Wang Xin, Li Peter Ping. Wu-based Thinking Integrating the East with the West: The Analysis of Elon Musk’s Four Metaphors[J]. Foreign Economics & Management, 2018, 40(1): 124–140.