Elon has broken every conventional rule of the ‘how-to-be-a-successful-CEO’ manual.
Elon Musk has just unveiled a breakthrough in brain-machine integration by one of his pet projects that used 3 animals for a live demo. In his inimitable quirky style, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX, presented the imminent possibility of reading and writing into the human brain in real-time through a tiny Neuralink implant.
Over the years, public response to his extraordinary bets on technologies and compulsion to constantly innovate have been anywhere between skepticism and adulation. Today, Elon has something of a cult status in the tech world.
Elon has broken every conventional rule of the ‘how-to-be-a-successful-CEO’ manual. His presentations are awkward. When Elon speaks about colonizing Mars, he appears to be muttering to himself, while his audience tries to keep up. His visions often sound preposterous as though he is reading from a sci-fi movie script.
This is precisely how Copernicus would have sounded when he touted a heliocentric world. Yet, we in this day and age are more measured in our reaction because Elon has accomplished many of his bizarre prognostications. He sent reusable rockets into space, one of them carried a Tesla sportscar, while another with astronauts on board, did a round trip. Tesla electric cars have redefined the entire driving experience and Hyperloop is set to smash current transportation barriers.
The Tesla stock price has tripled in the last 6 months, defying every market headwind produced by the pandemic. Elon tweeted rather irreverently that the TSLA share price ‘was too high imo’. His shareholders watched helplessly as the shares tumbled, wiping out $16B in stock value. His unconventional tweets feel like A/B testing of the stock market, not to mention his repeated run-ins with the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC). SEC has even sued Elon for what it calls irresponsible tweeting.
Admittedly, many of his tweets are bizarre. They often trigger speculations by his admirers and critics, about a new technology milestone. They spill out confidential company plans. His controversial tweet could start with ‘this might get me into trouble’. Yet he has amassed popularity across age groups and nationalities. What is the reason for Elon’s enduring appeal?
Apart from his decisiveness and the ability to set high standards, what stands out is his ability to envision and execute big technological shifts, and yet remain relatable. He is open about his failings and fears and does not sugarcoat them with corporate jargon.
Elon admitted that he did not anticipate the difficulties of producing Tesla Model 3. His SpaceX project failed repeatedly. Both his companies were nearly bankrupt, at which point he wouldn’t even let his friends invest in them. His ability to own his failures makes him very human.
The unveiling of Cybertruck was any demo team’s worst nightmare. It was supposed to demonstrate the electric truck’s armored glass window by throwing a steel ball at it. The glass shattered, not once but twice. It was a spectacular failure that the media lapped up. A visibly embarrassed Elon found it hard to carry on with the rest of the event. He admitted to an amused audience that they had thrown everything at the glass before, and it did not break, but for some weird reason it broke now, he didn’t know why. That public admission of failure right on the spot was almost endearing. In the end, the failed demo attracted far more interest in Cybertruck than a successful demo would have done.
In this morning’s demo, Gertrude, the animal with the Neuralink chip implant did co-operate with him, after a bit of cajoling. Our imagination is now fired up about telepathically summoning the Tesla using such a brain implant.
Elon continues to live on the cusp of the real and imaginary. His fan club can easily relate with his boyish fascination for sci-fi movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, which he set out to re-create with SpaceX. Blade Runner inspired the design of Cybertruck, which looks so outlandish that you expect an assortment of aliens to step out of it. Yet, his visible human qualities help to demystify a leader who described the Neuralink brain implant as a Fitbit for the skull. The tech world was listening. Elon Musk’s authenticity has some great lessons in leadership.
Shalini Verma is CEO of PIVOT technologies
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