The New Age of Musketeering

The New Age of Musketeering

The New Age of Musketeering

Some people are DREAMERS, and so they spend their lives dreaming of and about things they will one day be able to do, buy, enjoy or otherwise get hold of. Others are the so-called DOERS. Their first impulse is to do things, as opposed to talking about them, indefinitely. Finally, there is the third category, populated by the rare breed of individuals who happen to be both.
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For them, a dream, no matter how big or seemingly irrational in the eyes of everyone around them, is simply a much-desired prelude to action, a powerful stimulant to their minds, the metaphorical  Sugar Man, who, more than anything else, defines WHO they are, WHY they do what they do and HOW they succeed or fail at the end of the day. This last category undoubtedly carries unique (occasionally abnormal) characteristics, as you will most likely discover given a modicum of interest in history's grandiose tyrants. Among others, unlike the majority of mankind, the third category sees obstacles the same way addicts look at chemical stimulants. Every failure, bar the apocalyptic kind, is likely to make them stronger. 

 

Dreamers and idealists 'stay hungry, stay foolish'

Imagine you’re 80, retired, and busy enjoying what is vaguely referred to as sense of fulfilment - a vicious, ephemeral beast, no doubt. To some, fulfilment is all about living in comfort, next to the loved one(s), the joys of raising kids and watching grandchildren grow. This category of happy-seekers typically indulges visions of growing old in a comfortable country house, enjoying the quiet pleasures of cultivating a garden. An occasional exotic family trip is all they need to reaffirm their true passion for the home and the homely.

And then there are those who are driven (if not victimised) by a wild variety of urges and grand ambitions. They simply have to build things, innovate and improve upon just about everything they see and experience in their lives. Growing bigger and better is their second nature. In short, no matter how good the status quo, they are unlikely to be satisfied with it.

 

Here's to Elon Musk and his passion for "accelerating the world's transition to sustainable energy".

Reading the biographies of the likes of Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, James Watt, or, to go back in time a little further, Galileo, Da Vinci or Copernicus, one is bound to discover some fascinating commonalities behind the stories of people who, no matter what their trade, continuously pushed their own boundaries, and with those, the boundaries of mankind. Over the course of their lifetimes, whether willingly or not, they succeeded in single-handedly re-writing history forever, giving rise to tectonic waves of evolutionary change.

Enter Elon Musk

If you don't know the name yet, chances are you'll find yourself closer to laggards than innovators on the classic curve of diffusion of innovations. Suffice it to say that:

  • He's the man behind PayPal (sold to eBay in 2002, leaving the young Musk with $180 million at the time, the money he invested in his later ventures)
  • In 2008, his company, SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies), sent the first privately-funded rocket to orbit.
  • In 2012, his was the first private company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station
  • In 2015, for the first time in history, a SpaceX rocket booster safely returned to a landing site, making the 'enough-to-re-fuel' type of space travel a short-term prospect rather than a distant dream, at a fraction of the NASA cost, at that (or any other competitor, for that matter).
  • In 2017, Tesla will have started the mass production of Tesla Model 3 - the car which may far exceed what Henry Ford achieved with Model T. Today itself, it's only fair to assume that the impact of this car on the auto industry at large will be unprecedented. Technical and environmental innovation aside, the frenzy around Model 3 is such that over 115 000 vehicles were ordered in the first 24 hours.  

Now, you might think it's more than enough for one man's plate, especially if the man in question was born in 1971, in South Africa, and had no prior exposure to space industry before undertaking the formidable risk of setting up a company in the territory which can hardly be described as crowded...for a reason. Well, you would be very, very wrong to think that.

 

The name is Tesla, Tesla Motors

In 2012, a car was premiered at Geneva. The name was Tesla, Model S. And no, it wasn't yet another 4-wheeler from a company with decades of experience in the auto industry behind its backs, billions in available funds and a string of 100+ vehicles having left its assembly lines in the years prior. Without dwelling too long on the technicalities, let's just say that the distance travelled by Tesla Motors (a company established only in 2003) upon the introduction of the Model S to the automotive industry, significantly exceeds what Apple's iPhone did to the smartphone market in 2007. So does the scope of the dream that inspired the company's CEO and, importantly, Chief Technology Officer, Elon Musk.

With Model S, Tesla Motors did not produce yet another electric vehicle to add up to the list of concept cars mostly associated with little more than fiercely impractical, luxury golf carts (more than with anything drivable in any serious sense of the word, let alone desirable). Tesla Motors not only delivered a truly innovative product to the market, but also proved itself truly capable in addressing the negative stereotypes surrounding electric cars in general. Its product is designed to excel in safety, accelleration, torque, distance-per-charge, looks, comfort, usability, sustainability, environment - all at once. Not to mention the underlying passion for the boys'-world kind of gadgetry. And all that from the co-founder of PayPal who invested the majority of his private money in a dream, almost lost it all in the process, but never gave up, despite reaching the point of what he saw as a near-nervous-breakdown at some point. 

Raising the bar...not too far

Today, the most far-sighted (quite literally) of Elon Musk's companies, SpaceX, wants to bring humans to Mars by 2030. Musk's long-term plans include sending thousands of communication satellites to space to spread internet access all over the globe. Musk's investments and R&D efforts are full of promise, especially around environmental innovation. Projects such as SolarCity, Solar Roof, Tesla Powerwall are almost too good to be true, as if designed to heal the world and make it a better place, more than for any other purpose.

Musk appears to genuinely believe that humanity has reached the stage where it's capable of becoming a multi-planet civilisation. You will admit that, as company visions go, his is likely to generate infinitely stronger emotions than any new smartphone or operating system out there, or, indeed, any other earthly gadget on the horizon. He also believes that low-cost space exploration is essential to the survival of mankind, as much as putting an end to humanity's addiction to fossil fuels. Towards the latter goal, his company appears to be more than ready to release the brand new Tesla Model 3 - the first affordable (assuming $35,000 still counts as affordable) electric vehicle with the looks, technology and parameters under the hood that - in pure market terms - are much ahead of their time, especially when compared to what infinitely more powerful competitors have done to date. In short, Tesla Motors is disruptive innovation in its purest form.

 

The presentation style of Elon Musk

  

While presentation-style differences between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are distinctive enough to have become subjectmatter of entire books, some business leaders are even more unique in how they communicate with their respective audiences. Of those, Elon Musk, is, again, especially interesting. His style is much more 'modest' than what you might expect from a person of his age, background and achievements to date. When on stage, he appears naturally shy on the outside, almost to the extent of creating an impression of someone who feels intimidated by his audience and finds it very difficult not to break under the scrutiny of (even!) a friendly and very enthusiastic gathering. The psychological stress is visible across the spectrum, including:

  • tense body posture, reflected, among others, in the persistent 'steeple', which, combined with the overall first impression, looks excessive, even artificial at times. The above is only confirmed by characteristic eye gestures, accentuating both specific emotional states and level of on-stage/in-narrative comfort.
  • lack of clear flow in presentation structure (let's just say that the storyline itself could be vastly improved on, while retaining the natural feel of Elon Musk's idiosyncratic qualities)
  • at times, almost child-like-sounding intonation patterns (not a good thing, even if, in his particular case, the occasional feel of 'clumsiness' might correlate positively with likeability, given the man's unquestionable achievements and jaw-dropping milestones his respective companies have already crossed)

Having said that, I feel genuinely impressed by the modesty and humility of Elon Musk's core presentation style. While the great majority of HOW he speaks and HOW he structures his narrative could be greatly improved on, without compromising what essentially stands for Elon Musk being himself, his humble demeanour is perhaps the most positive and, in a way, inspiring quality to his presentation style, especially in a world full of over-polished, ultra-artificial-looking presenters, (motivational) speakers, even professional emcees.

Personality or corporate brand?

Today's top business and technology leaders retain their own distinct communication styles, albeit in some cases visibly influenced by professional training. Sometimes, the defining ingredients of individual presentation style, which, over the years, become part of the company brand, are so pervasive (e.g. Steve Jobs' jeans, black turtleneck and trainers on stage, combined with casual presentation style and what could be described as profuse abuse of positive adjectives when referring to Apple's products and services) that they potentially expose successors to public ridicule, when, inevitably, they do their best to follow in the footsteps of their founding fathers. If you don't know what I mean, just watch any of the product launch presentations by Steve Jobs and from there proceed straight to the early intros by Tim Cook.

 

DISCLAIMER: The author of this article has never cooperated (in any way whatsoever) with any of Elon Musk's companies, hence, excessive praise that the reader may stumble upon in the narrative above is the result of pure admiration and, as such, in no way connected to the author's fledgling sources of income.

ColdFusion, it was a pleasure to browse through your YouTube channel during the research phase for this article.


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