Identify 3-10 individuals with diverse backgrounds and interests. Have these individuals on call 24/7 and provide them with modest housing (mostly sleeping/eating quarters) on/near the campus you are at the most. Provide a modest budget with a minimal approval process via someone Mr. Musk trusts and designates. The purpose of this team is to pursue fringe, bizarre, out of the box ideas and compile a brief 1-page daily list that could be read in a minute with more info about each topic available on demand.
This team could also be called on at any time to bounce ideas or problems off of to critique, offer encouragement, offer alternatives or to try and offer a thought-train that might result in a solution or a solution. All notes, all research, all ideas to be property of the company they report directly to which you/the company could license/bill to other companies you are behind. Basically a think-tank with general autonomy unless a specific issue is identified and needs to be worked on.
A very modest salary of 30-40k would be more than adequate if modest housing and subsidized meals are provided. At least one artist and one engineering major should be part of the team.
A lifetime fan of both 'soft' and 'hard' science fiction and an interest in plethora of topics leaves me feeling humanity needs more groups like this. Armed with time, modest resources and a diverse team I think something like this could benefit humanity both on-world and off-world. I believe a worthwhile team could be started and begin the think tank experiment with:
- A conference room sized office with reading chairs, tables, enough workstations for every member of the team, some e-readers and a viewing room for
- A budget for reading material for exploring both works of fiction and non-fiction to further pursue ideas as well as seek inspiration
- A modest budget for pursuing motion pictures and documentaries for inspiration and learning more about specific ideas
- A small assortment of 'creative' modular toys for visually exploring ideas, e.g. LEGO elements
- A digital collaboration and organization space not unlike Evernote for cataloging ideas and saving specific research material to for future reference
- A quick process for requesting purchase approval to further explore an idea (ideally designate someone to approve or deny the request within 30 minutes of the team making a majority vote to pursue the idea)
- A room with current generation VR gear (e.g. the Vive) and a small budget to buy titles to explore virtual environments for inspiration
- Regular updates on any projects partner companies are pursuing, including any unsolved problems so any potential ideas can quickly be forwarded to the appropriate teams with any relevant research that has been cataloged to support the idea
- A room isolated from the office where consumer products like Google Home, Amazon Echo, companion and social robots etc could be explored to possibly foster ideas for use in terrestrial vehicles, manned spacecraft and off-world habitats to improve customer/crew/settler experience and provide social stimulation..
I personally have all sorts of ideas and concepts worth exploring more but sorry Elon, you'll have to hire me for that.
1% of your personal assumed net worth could fund a 10-person team for more than 2 centuries. Pursue this idea, gamble 0.01% on 2-3 years. Hell, want to be fun about it? Build your own self-contained faux spacecraft habitat in a warehouse using your thoughts for ITS and find a handful of volunteers to live in it for 6-8 months while doing the think-tank.