Elon Musk and Shooting For the Stars

People right now, all in all. Are a little hopeless. I don’t mean they don’t have a clue, I mean that a lot of people don’t feel like there is a lot to hope for. From Global Warming, to the most recent political turmoil in the US, to an uncertain future for the market, it feels like every day brings a new slate of craziness to deal with. With so much uncertainty and so much pressure, it’s easy to get worn down.

One piece of craziness is normal, two is a bad week, several, week after week, after week. It wears on you. And when it keeps happening, week after week after week, it’s easy to feel lost, hopeless, and, when it comes to higher goals, like they might never happen. In times like that, what inspires us are heroes that attract us and inspires us. It’s no mistake that we’ve got such a huge surge of interest in superheros. And in that vein, let’s talk about the guy that Robert Downing Jr. based Iron Man off of: Elon Musk.

Getty Images from SXSW

You might know him as the owner of Tesla, the electric car manufacturer that has been putting every other car company to shame.

Or the owner of SpaceX, a company that created rocket travel at a fraction of the cost of the closest US competitor. The nearest competitor to SpaceX in the world is the United Launch Alliance, ULA, which is a combination of Boeing and Lockheed Martin resources which has been left in the dirt. ULA has been charging 380 million dollars per flight to the US government. SpaceX came in with flights for a discount. A 290 million dollar discount. At 90 million dollars, 30 more than their usual 60 because of government regulations, they blow away the competition. The SpaceX price, also is ahead of any other space agency, or government agency, in the world.

Or perhaps as one of the creators of PayPal, the service that would revolutionize online transactions forever.

If you listen to him however, he rarely, if ever, talks business. He talks in terms of moving humanity to the stars, his stated life’s mission, advancing the progress of humanity, or making great leaps forward for the benefit of all, rather than nickel and diming small improvement over small improvement. For example he talks about making the world entirely free from fossil fuels with cheap renewable energy, like he’s doing with his company Solar City and is attempting to get numbers of sustainability that other companies dream about. Now you may be saying I’m fanboying too hard, and I am a pretty big fan. And yet why shouldn’t I be? Visionaries don’t come along very often. So many of the people that get raised up as models to emulate, are not that… Inspiring. For example one of many feckless and corrupt politicians in office at the moment, or brainless celebrities, famous for their idiocy, scandal, and salaciousness.

What we need right now are more Musks with less McConnels and Kardashians.

I want individuals who are setting the bar at impossible tasks, and then trying to achieve that. And maybe they’ll fail once, twice, many times before they succeed. Their one success however, does more for the world than every accomplishment of lesser individuals.

I believe very strongly that everyday actions and events are necessary to change the world for the better. Holding the door, picking up trash as you go, being polite in a stressful situation. Like the small tasks necessary for a ship to sail, scrubbing the decks, raising the sail, scraping the hull, keeping provisions out of the wet. Yet what is still needed, right now much more so, are captains. Individuals with vision who can inspire us towards a better path and a better place for humanity. Direction to a destination and a far shore. While the ship may sail very well, if it isn’t moving towards a farther shore, there’s no point.

Since the space race of the 50s and 60s, the United States has stalled almost entirely on the innovation front. We’ve been improving by steps and inches on previous technology, but we’re not taking leaps. If I were to ask 100 people what technological innovations have developed in the last 40 years, they’d say the iphone, the internet, computers, and that’s it. We’ve been developing two of those ideas since the 50s, and even the 40s, and the other is just an improvement, it’s not itself a leap. And we could be, if we raised our sights higher than just a little bit higher than the status quo, we could go so much further. It isn’t whether we can or not, it’s whether we choose to or not.

In the US, our lives revolve around business. An oft sighted argument for capitalism, is that it drives innovation because of competition. The fact is however, the goal of a business is not to innovate, but to make money. If business is such a huge driver of innovation, then why are improvements released not as they are created, but in small upgrades and infinitesimal improvements? Business isn’t about innovation. It’s about novelty and it’s about profiting from innovation. The reason is, as we’ve seen by many years of scandal, that releasing small, barely meaningful upgrades in many forms can make much more money, than actually offering value and pushing the boundaries of what can be done. Apple throttled older phones’ ability to operate, auto companies in the US steadfastly refused, and still refuse, to raise MPG in newer vehicles, although it is entirely feasible to do by leaps and bounds because of the fossil fuel industry.

Elon Musk has astounded industry after industry by breaking down the rules on what can and cannot be done. Not because he has access to something they don’t, not by having more resources, and not by being an alien. He succeeds far beyond others because rather than decide that something is impossible, he searches for the way to make it possible. And rather than looking to make a profit, he’s looking to help humanity fulfill its destiny. He just happens to have businesses that are blowing away the competition because, funnily enough, being a pioneer has its perks.

Over the past couple of months, and preceding years, Musk has been blasted for the moves he’s made. Some of it justified, most of it not. People say he’s crazy, he’s irresponsible, he’s not a businessman. Crazy is usually just what people don’t understand, irresponsible, he’s taking big risks to reap the big rewards, and a businessman? They’re right, he’s not a businessman. He’s a visionary.

(Disclosure, If you couldn't tell, I’m a huge Musk fanboy. But I firmly believe he's one of the most important humans on the planet right now for the future of humanity)

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