Elon Musk takes a long view on opportunities, and by doing so he manages to solve the problem that affects those results in the present moment. Watch this TED conversation with Chris Anderson for examples.
The most salient at minute 15:12 (emphasis mine):
That’s right. So it’s important that the rocket stages be able to come back, to be able to return to the launch site and be ready to launch again within a matter of hours.
[…] Yes. (Reusable rockets) And so what a lot of people don’t realize is, the cost of the fuel, of the propellant, is very small. It’s much like on a jet. So the cost of the propellant is about .3 percent of the cost of the rocket.
So it’s possible to achieve, let’s say, roughly 100-fold improvement in the cost of spaceflight if you can effectively reuse the rocket. That’s why it’s so important.
Every mode of transport that we use, whether it’s planes, trains, automobiles, bikes, horses, is reusable, but not rockets. So we must solve this problem in order to become a space-faring civilization.
How can we save the rocket? Solves the right problem — create opportunity for more frequent experimentation to learn more by making it more sustainable financially.
Shane Parrish [h/t] shares a remark later in the interview on why physics is a good framework for thinking — boil things down to its fundamental truths and build up from that. He calls it physics and I can see the danger of labeling it so specifically. In some cultures we are a literal bunch.
Learning how to discover new things that are counter-intuitive can be done systematically through better practice. Here is Elon Musk Reddit AMA on the importance of learning to learn.