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How should we think about Elon Musk? Is he Jesus or Satan? Here's how my thoughts about him have evolved.
I became somewhat obsessed with Elon Musk about ten years ago. For several months, I read and watched every interview I could find. That is many hours to watch...
The reason was that I had never come across anyone like him before. Someone who thought so incredibly big, at the same time was extremely knowledgeable in the details, articulated it so well, was so inspiring, and at the same time delivered on what he said.
At the time, he was "only" running Tesla and SpaceX and was not particularly well-known. When I excitedly told people about him, the most common response was "Elooon who..?"
He was strange even then. This is a tweet (that's what it was called then) from 2011.
World's richest = hated
When he became the world's richest person, he also became one of the world's most famous people – and most hated.
Now the image of him started to change, although he himself was actually pretty much the same. Perceptions of him began to spread that simply were not true. I, who had spent so many hours on him, knew this. Some hated him for being rich, regardless of how he had created that wealth.
Every little strange or stupid thing he did led to extremely harsh criticism. Not that he should have been above criticism, but it was so ruthless. It made me sad. A person who creates so much good should be supported, not hated.
In December 2021, he was named Time's Person of the Year. Rightly so, I thought. SpaceX regularly landed and reused rockets and was about to open the door to space and Mars. Tesla had kick-started the transition to electric cars. Elon didn't hide behind corporate speech and rehearsed talking points. He was open, answered support questions about the cars on Twitter, and inspired millions of people to work for a better future.
Last year, he really started to change
Since then, he has actually changed. This time, it's not just the image of him that has changed, but his behavior. The purchase of Twitter marked the beginning of this change. He could be mean before, but he has become much harsher and nastier. There's nothing wrong with taking on the woke culture and standing up for freedom of speech (quite the contrary), but unlike Tesla and SpaceX, he hasn't explained his vision and how he will get there. It becomes negative, instead of inspiring.
We have also seen a series of strange and unexpectedly poor decisions. Many said he would never be able to succeed with Twitter, as they had said about everything he had undertaken. My attitude was, "don't bet against Elon," and he has breathed life into a dysfunctional company. But the critics have been more right than I expected. For example, if a policy on Twitter is to be changed, why not give a warning a week before, instead of just changing it so that people get banned without a chance to correct themselves? Similar things have happened several times and it's just stupid.
I suspect that in the case of Twitter, Elon has had mostly yes-men around him. Many look up to and worship him and unlike Tesla and SpaceX, these kinds of people have surrounded him now. Perhaps the successes have also given him some hubris. That would be quite human.
So, how should we think about Elon now?
Being totally uncritical towards someone is never good for any person. It does not benefit either the person or his or her surroundings.
At the same time, we must not forget all the good Elon does, just because he also does stupid and bad things.
People who accomplish things on the scale of Elon Musk are not entirely ordinary. They are annoying, strange, and obsessed. We must be able to tolerate that, without being overly uncritical.
When Elon Musk does something stupid, we can criticize him for it. It's important that we do. I really miss the super-inspiring Elon I discovered ten years ago. But keep the criticism at a reasonable level. Take it easy. He's not Satan just because he tweets something stupid or mean.
But he deserves just as much (or more) praise and support for all the good he does. (And you don't have to like him or his crazy humor for that.)
Keep the bad in one scale and the good in the other. Which outweighs? The world needs more people like Elon Musk, not fewer. When they appear, they stir things up. That's good because that's when we evolve.
And even though it is still turbulent at X, I nevertheless wouldn't dare to bet against Elon.
The Angry Optimist
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I don't keep up with the soccer World Cup. Instead, I follow the possible room-temperature superconductor breakthrough.
The speculation if it is really true.
The attempts to repeat it in other labs.
And even betting.
Now I'm waiting for the final whistle and whether I should cheer or cry.
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