Fierce Gentleman Profile: Elon Musk16 Flares 16 Flares ×
Look at that man pictured above. What’s he up to?
As it happens, he appears to be out to revolutionize several Earth-based industries (clean tech, automotive, air travel, and the proverbial more) — whilst simultaneously ensuring that the human race becomes multiplanetary (in effect, purchasing an “insurance policy for the human race.”)
Elon is nothing less than the Henry Ford (slash Howard Hughes) of the 21st century, shrinking time and distance with the invention & mass-production of the first reusable rocket, a revolutionary innovation that will fundamentally change humanity’s relationship to the stars.
And yet, it’s clear Elon is thinking bigger than Ford ever did, not only of introducing new products and creating whole new industries, but doing so for reasons more elevated than the desire to amass wealth. . .
“I always had an existential crisis, trying to figure out ‘what does it all mean?’ I came to the conclusion that if we can advance the knowledge of the world, if we can expand the scope and scale of consciousness, then, we’re better able to ask the right questions and become more enlightened. That’s the only way to move forward.”
Elon has said that he wants his rocket company SpaceX to become “like the shipping company that brought people to America, or the Union Pacific Railroad” in it’s relationship to human space travel, and certainly he’ll make a lot of money in the process, but there’s a strong metaphysical motivation here: to ensure that the light of human consciousness cannot be extinguished by an errant asteroid or the rapid break-down in the planetary food chain threatened by unprecedented global CO2 levels.
I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have working on that problem. From the very beginning, Musk proved his ability to presciently scan the future and invent it just as it became possible: he was responsible for the merger deal and the viral marketing campaign that resulted in the first popular payment gateway – PayPal – from his position in the early e-commerce and financial services company X.com.
It was PayPal’s sale in 2002 that netted Elon his first fortune, roughly $250 million USD, of which he promptly sunk $100 million into his next two venture, Space Exploration Inc and Tesla Motors.
Musk went on to summarily prove his ability to produce evolutionary innovations in existing industries, with the introduction of the first mass-produced fully electric car of the modern era (or rather, the first mass-produced electric car that wasn’t mysteriously recalled and junked for no apparent reason), as well as a complementary company, SolarCity, that is the largest provider of solar-leasing arrangements in the U.S.
Musk plans to use his electric cars from Tesla to help with energy storage of all the solar power now being passively collected by SolarCity arrays.
Elon is now working 100 hours a week on both companies (while chairing SolarCity on the side) in an effort to solve the C02 problem and make humanity multi-planetary in the bargain.
Elon is focused on taking us to Mars, not the Moon, which makes a counter-intuitive kind of sense — Mars is more hospitable to human life than the moon, despite being farther; the planet is more fully stocked with useful-to-Earthian resources.
Along the way, he’s fathered five kids, married (& divorced) two gorgeous women, produced a couple of movies (including the excellent 2005 comedy-drama Thank You For Smoking), appeared in one movie (the otherwise lackluster Iron Man 2) and, oh yes, he has pledged his fortune to charity alongside Warren Buffet and Bill Gates.
And, he’s a snappy dresser who prefers light-pattern checks (see gallery below.)
CRITICISMS OF MUSK
Some have accused Musk of ‘failing forward’ — that is, continually moving to the next big idea, when his current big idea has not yet run its full course. Tesla Motors had trouble filling orders of the original Roadster, and has faced similar production delays with the Model S — surely a sympathetic problem for anyone else who’s ever designed a gotta-have-it product (Steve Jobs, may he rest in peace, is quietly smiling in his grave.)
An Esquire interview quotes a Jim Cantrell as saying, “Right now, he’s producing rockets at an industry average, and yet his flight manifest is much higher than industry average. It’s exactly like Tesla. He has a rocket that works. But before he even finishes with that, he’s building the next one.”
This criticism might be true. Any casual observer can see that Musk is “on to the next one” (warning: link contains hip-hop music) much more rapidly than his contemporaries, or more rapidly than anyone might deem wise. The Peter Jackson adage, “One job at a time. Every job a success,” seems not to apply to Musk, who seems constitutionally unable to do just one thing at a time.
But if this is what failing forward looks like, then I say, fail on, Elon — in this sort of failure you are still succeeding, because the copycats who will inevitably follow in your wake-trail can do no worse than successfully execute your vision at higher and higher levels of excellence (even if they can’t quite bring themselves to dare as greatly than you.)
Elon’s genius, then, is in his demonstration to all the rest of us of just what can be accomplished in 100-hour work weeks, when one makes full use of one’s natural-born talents — in Elon’s case, a rare autodidact’s ability to absorb information (the man literally taught himself rocket science from textbooks).
Not all of us have this crazy learning skill, but we have other skills. Are we taking full advantage of our natural assets? Are we devoting as much time as he is to developing them, and to putting them in service to as big a slice of humanity as we can get our arms around?
Elon challenges us to do just this. As such, he is the quintessential Fierce Gentleman.
We need to figure out how to have the things we love… and not destroy the world.
- Elon Musk at the Stanford lecture series (a school he attended for two days before dropping out to become an Internet millionaire)
- The Believers, GQ Feb 2009
- Esquire interview, December 2012