Elon Musk's brilliantly weird SpaceX event was the mark of an awkward genius

By | octubre 1, 2017
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Tesla and Space X chief executive Elon Musk is known for his spectacular mastery of the media. 

So adept is the billionaire tech founder at getting the press to eat out of his hand, Tesla, his electric vehicle and battery company, is able to thrive on a marketing budget of precisely nothing.


The battery revolution

Will there be a day when solar plus batteries will start wiping fossil fuels off the grid?

Yes, I realise I’m pointing this out in yet another article about the man. But it was nonetheless hardly surprising last week when Musk’s presentation at a space conference in Adelaide created lots of headlines.

It’s hard to not be impressed by someone trying to get humans to Mars, let alone colonise the red planet, in the not-too-distant future.

For those who missed it, Musk unveiled a BFR (Big F—ing Rocket) on which he is aiming to send humans to Mars by 2024, and which would also be capable of transporting people anywhere around the world in under an hour

Yet despite the obvious excitement around all of this (and its worth remembering Musk’s companies are notorious at missing deadlines) there was another aspect of last week’s event that is impossible to ignore. 

Musk’s behaviour and delivery was really odd.

In the presentation he seemed alarmingly off kilter and visibly nervous, with repeated bouts of stuttering. I watched via online stream, but spoke to multiple people present, and the consensus was something seemed off. For the record, Space X and Tesla both didn’t respond to requests for comment on the matter. 

“It’s a very emotional day,” Musk said at at the start of the presentation, noting that it was the nine-year anniversary of SpaceX’s first launch.

It might seem churlish to focus on Musk’s shaky delivery given the magnitude of his announcements. To some, it was endearing. 

But Musk’s behaviour undeniably matters to the many investors in Tesla, which now has a market value of $US57 billion ($72.8 billion) now, making it more valuable than Ford.

It matters just as much to investors who are shorting the stock. (Tesla, which is either going to change the world or go bust – is an incredibly divisive investment, and among the most heavily short sold shares on the US market). 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being nervous about public speaking, but Musk is usually the consummate showman. Compare his performance in Adelaide to his much more confident unveiling of Tesla’s Model 3 vehicle last year. 

 

While he has never been as polished as his predecessor in the mantle of world’s most greatest entrepeneur – Apple founder Steve Jobs – on Friday, he did not seem like his usual self. 

There are other reasons why its entirely reasonable to scrutinise Musk’s every utterance.  

The South African-born mogul is quite probably, the world’s most celebrated entrepreneur on the planet right now, at time when entrepreneurship is being celebrated more than ever before (at least in this country). Certainly, he’s the most ambitious.

The only realistic rival for those titles is Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who also has a space company, Blue Origin. As yet, it has not outlined plans to colonise Mars. 

Maybe it was just jetlag or a lack of sleep (Musk is known to struggle with sleep, and has tweeted amusing things while on Ambien, a sleeping aid, before). 

He recently ended a relationship with Hollywood actress Amber Heard. 

Perhaps it had something to do with the water in Adelaide? Or maybe it really was the occasion that got to him. 

Anyway, it is common in political punditry for analysis to focus on style rather than substance (how often do you see someone judged on their ability to stay “on message”, rather than on what that underlying message actually is?). So why can’t we do the same in business? Especially since Musk will surely be more important than your run-of-the-mill politician.

If he gets even remotely close to realising his ambitions, Musk will go down as one of history’s great figures, and no doubt even more powerful than he is now.  

What he says and does matters. A lot. 

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