What Musk Does Right: Technical innovation isn’t always about being smart, its about daring to ask questions

One of the best tricks I’ve ever seen is how Elon Musk is pulling all this off so playfully.  I was watching the cartoon show, Rick & Morty the other night on the Cartoon Network and Elon Musk was a guest star, something he clearly didn’t have to do but felt compelled to play a part of.  All this while running one of the top car making companies in the world.  Any of these things would allow Musk to sit on a pedestal and just let the world come to him the way the Vanderbilt’s or Rothschilds might have in years past, but that’s not how he operates.  Musk is just an unpretentious person who likes to play with toys and he’d rather be thinking about how to fix the landing of the next Starship than going to awards ceremonies where people tell him how smart he is, indirectly looking for some of his money.  What Elon Musk has built in Boca Chica, Texas is a group of some of the smartest people who are just like him, young minds, playful people, and untainted adults still with the gifts of childhood governing their lives and it’s a dream come true for me.  I’ve been hoping to see more of this kind of thing in more industries for decades, but at least we are seeing it now with SpaceX.  Finally, someone with the passion of Thomas Edison, the money of Henry Ford, but the curiosity about life that a typical five-year-old has who is taking humanity to the next great places.

Recently I had to talk about the failures of Virgin Galactic as compared to SpaceX, which pained me because I had really been rooting for Richard Branson’s group to pull off space tourism.  However, the Virgin Galactic approach to space was way too adult-like.  Way too rigid, which allowed pin headed government types to stick their noses into the business of innovation and whitewash away the results.  Musk has built his company the way a child would, if one experiment goes bad, then we’ll just try again and again until we get it.  Even with the mishaps of SN10, the plans were already in place to put SN11 on the lunch pad.  After SN11 the plans for SN16, SN17 then SN20 for the scheduled orbital flight by midsummer.   If this were any other company, it would have taken 6 months to even put another Starship on the launchpad, let alone continue to push for the aggressive orbital goals that many companies would just put on the schedule as a placeholder.  With SpaceX, they intend to meet their schedule, not at the sacrifice of the product itself, but they do view time lost as time gone forever and lost opportunity that slips away each time. 

By making the rockets automated and removing the concept of a pilot from the Starship program, Elon Musk set the standard for success in this highly litigious age we live in presently where micromanagement of everything kills innovation before an idea is even born.  I often think what a shame it is that there aren’t more people like Elon Musk in any society at any given point in history because of this ratio of risk and rewards, but I am grateful to have Musk at all.  He has just the right temperament to run so many large-scale operations at the same time, and be one of the richest people on the planet without the pretense that usually comes from those titles.  Musk is just as likely to be found at a Boco Chica coffee shop with his engineering late at night scratching out ideas on a napkin than he is high rolling it with the rich and famous, and that is an unspoken part of this whole mix that is more important than anything.  As I pointed out with Virgin Galactic, people like Richard Branson use their considerable charm to schmooze the powerful in government, but because they do not have the extra gears that Elon Musk does, cannot help the real people in the trenches solve the hard problems.  That is how Musk has pulled his companies out and away from the pack so effectively and why they are so successful now.

The obsession that Elon Musk has on the Starship program reminds me a lot of Edison working out the details on the light bulb, and the endless quest to manufacture rubber that he was trying to do for the Ford Motor Company.  To people on the outside, it looks dangerous and even obsessive, but there has never been a better personality than Musk to handle it.  As great as Edison was you wouldn’t see him on a popular cartoon like Rick & Morty.  The biggest difference has been in Musk’s playful approach to the rocket business on the top end and has been a template for all future success that people will be following for years.  I can’t think of a better example of how management and problem solving in business should be done than in what SpaceX is doing presently, and under tremendous pressure.  Any other company and group of personalities would be crushed in the process, but SpaceX continues to make it all look so easy—which is because they have separated themselves from the pretentiousness of adulthood and left the realm of innovation where it belongs, with the heart of playful kids and rocket geniuses. 

Cliffhanger the Overmanwarrior


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