elon musk

The Elon Musk biography, aptly named Elon Musk, is a must-read for every serious businessperson. At 615 pages it is a beast of a bio, but also a page-turner.

It’s a tale of a man who decided that he would concurrently:

  • Disrupt the brutally competitive auto industry and build a company more valuable than GM, Ford and Toyota combined with a technology that didn’t exist.
  • Displace heavily fortified aerospace and military vendors in perhaps the most regulated industry, replacing NASA…while setting a goal to send humans to Mars.
  • Launch satellites into space while arming the Ukrainian military with Wi-Fi.
  • Create humanoid robots for the home.
  • Implant microchips in the human brain in such a way that it could reverse paralysis.
  • Build tunnels under major cities such as Las Vegas to relieve traffic.
  • Attempt to restore free speech while buying Twitter.

Musk has achieved varying degrees of success in these endeavors while also having ten children from three different women—which doesn’t include artificially impregnating one of his Divisional Presidents (we don’t recommend it).

No single person in the last 100 years has had an impact on humanity with the brute force of Elon Musk. We won’t spoil the ending, but here are some of the book’s truly bizarre, awe-inspiring stories.

Short-sellers

new website screenshot

There was a time Musk was attacked by an army of short-sellers who used lies, deception, and propaganda to sabotage Tesla’s stock price. They even deployed spies as employees within the company to monitor production levels, which were running below Musk’s promise of 5,000 cars per week. This provoked Musk in a way similar to when opponents tried trash-talking Michael Jordan (which never ended well). Through sheer will, Musk worked 120 hours a week, and eclipsed 5,000 cars per week. Most of the short-sellers lost all their money.

One of them was Bill Gates, who years later asked Musk to support his philanthropic causes. In a tussle reminiscent of Ali vs. Frazier, Musk asked Gates, “Do you still have a half a million-dollar short position in Tesla?” When Gates said yes, Musk told him to pound sand.

Musk KPIs

At one point, Musk regularly slept under his desk at the Tesla factory in Fremont, California. He commandeered a conference room and turned it into a control center with a series of red and green lights. If a machine, line or process wasn’t operating at capacity, the light would change to red. Each machine or line was outfitted with the same early warning system. Whenever a light illuminated red, Musk scurried to that line to solve the problem, often re-engineering a solution on the spot.

Ironically, Musk admits he actually over-automated the factory. In every instance in which lines were not running at capacity, he considered whether humans could produce faster than robots, and when true, he “de-automated” the line. This is remarkable in that he would often unravel decisions he had made earlier.

Musk and pricing

At SpaceX, Musk came to believe the entire military and aerospace industries had lost their ability to innovate because of their cost-plus pricing methodology. Defying all conventional wisdom in the industry, Musk offered a fixed cost which made SpaceX accountable for the success of rocket launches and deployments. For space travel to be feasible required that he find a way to reuse rockets, so SpaceX created rockets that would land on a pad. In this case, the pricing model created a maniacal focus on the success of each mission, even those not manned by humans.

Musk and AI

Musk was an initial investor in both PayPal (where he made his first fortune) and OpenAI, long before Microsoft was the primary backer. He bailed on OpenAI out of concerns for creating responsible software, and to focus on AI he could control.

Musk pioneered the most consumed machine learning/AI technology to date—autonomous vehicles. Musk’s modus operandi is to set seemingly impossible requirements and BHAGs (big hairy audacious goals), and demand they come true. At one point, Musk asked his engineers to remove steering wheels from vehicles in his quest to achieve full self-driving.

Of course Google and others are trying to compete, but Tesla has a huge lead. Its self-driving technology will undoubtedly improve by 3-4x in a matter of years.

Gates famously said we overestimate the impact of technology in the short-term, and underestimate its impact in the long-term. If commercial airlines use autopilot safely, why can’t we with cars? It’s certain that within five years, autonomous taxis will be functional and safe.

Musk has a big advantage over his AI rivals through development of self-driving technologies, humanoid robots, and common ownership with Neuralink, as well as access to a massive amount of data about human tendencies. In addition to humans learning from machines, machines will learn from humans.

Read Elon Musk. Love him or hate him, your thinking will be stretched in ways you can’t imagine.

Our POV on EVs

The Emmers are on their third round of Teslas, and we are believers—not because we admire Musk, but because we believe EV is a superior technology to cars powered by fossil fuels. We understand there is a sharp resistance by some, and EV sales are in a temporary slump.

But as a class, EVs are safer (ironic, as they are so fast and fun to drive), have all-wheel drive, hold more cargo (no engine), are quieter, require zero maintenance, and are better for the environment—and they literally drive themselves. Once they become cheaper to operate than gas vehicles, it will be game-over.

So why the shift to hybrid?

Sometimes humans have irrational fears based on emotion, such as the fear of flying commercially (14 people have died in 100 million U.S. flights in the last 10 years). There are two reasons why hybrid technology has become popular:

  1. Distorted range paranoia
  2. Carmakers not named Tesla do not have access to adequate battery production and storage

Urban centers and suburbs are quickly becoming equipped with more charging options, in part because the Infrastructure and Jobs Act provides funding for 500,000 charging stations.

There are times when EVs don’t make much sense—they are not good in cold weather and floods. But the only people who worry about running out of range are the people who don’t own EVs. EVs coming out today have 350+ miles of range. The average work commute is 41 miles, and charging during most road trips is not problematic. If you live in an area where solar is practical, home chargers can easily be installed (under these conditions, the cost to operate an EV is about $60 a month). And as a bonus, EV drivers don’t have to visit a gas station 40-50 times a year.

The government is not going to give us a choice. By 2026, federal and state governments in the U.S., Germany and elsewhere will make it more costly to own and operate a gas vehicle, and they will be almost entirely eliminated over the next decade. EVs even come with artificial sound effects that mirror engines, if that’s your jam. And yes, it’s time we all start thinking more intently about what we’re doing to reverse climate change.

Is self-driving really safe?

This is the part of the post where we get hate mail.

Significant data supports that autonomous driving is near par to the capabilities of human drivers, especially on the highway. People won’t believe data that doesn’t support their bias, regardless of how telling it is. Tesla has published data that suggests:

  • Teslas have fewer accidents than other cars, even when autopilot is turned off
  • Tesla drivers using autopilot have fewer accidents than when the feature is turned off
  • Tesla drivers that own both a Tesla and another automobile are in 50% fewer accidents in their Tesla than their other vehicle

But perhaps more than any other technology, machine learning is certain to improve over the next 2-3 years, and it is a foregone conclusion that soon, autonomous vehicles will exceed the safety of human drivers. These are the facts, and they are indisputable.

By Marc Emmer for Forbes – The Speed Of Technology: Short Vs. Long-Term Impacts 

Amid accelerating technology disruption, Bill Gates famously once said, “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.”

Read more

The Strategy Experts

Marc Emmer is President and Chief Strategist & Facilitator at Optimize Inc. He is an author, speaker and consultant recognized as a thought leader throughout North America as an expert in strategic planning.