ELON MUSK: THE VISIONARY

ELON MUSK: THE VISIONARY

By Rebecca Alexander

This is part 2 of our 3 article series on Elon Musk. Part 1 covered the early stages of Musk’s life. In this article, we explore Elon Musk, the visionary: The ‘why’ and ‘how’ behind his incredible plans to make the world a better place.

Since the successful launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, it’s been quite unlikely to get through the day without coming across a news bit about Elon Musk. Clearly, this isn’t a recent trend and a simple Google search about Elon Musk results in millions of results including a biography that calls him “a contemporary, visionary amalgam of legendary inventors and industrialists including Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Howard Hughes, and Steve Jobs“. Even though most previous interviews were industry-specific, the central theme is most often related to Elon’s vision or his distinct thought process and rightly so. Given the diverse trail he leaves behind, his vision is the one thing that gives some insight into what makes him one of the most influential and powerful people today. Let’s explore!

Towards a Sustainable Earth

The complete package:

After making online transactions a whole lot easier with PayPal, Elon set out to tackle what is acknowledged as potentially the biggest threat to mankind today: Climate Change. It is believed that he got this idea during a family annual visit to burning man and decided to end the world’s obsession with fossil fuels. As it turns out, he intended to tackle not one but the top two major contributors of greenhouse gases, i.e. burning of fossil fuels for energy and the pollution from transportation. On the 28th of October 2016, he formally unveiled the ‘complete package’ that consisted of power generation by SolarCity rooftop solar panels, power storage by Tesla Powerwall batteries and transportation by Tesla cars. This, he believes, should accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy. However, the journey amounting to that successful day was not a smooth ride.

Speed bumps in the road:

Elon joined Tesla, a company initially co-founded by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, through one of its early rounds of investments. It gained early attention when celebrities, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Leonardo DiCaprio, and George Clooney, bought Tesla cars.

Although Elon planned to make the Tesla electric cars popular among the general public by developing an affordable race car, the actual cost of putting the car together was way more, leading to additional investment from Musk himself. That wasn’t the sole obstacle during the initial years of Tesla. From Eberhard’s controversial exit to the Henrik Fisker controversy, Elon found himself caught in some legal battles.

Tesla was written off at least twice and was on the verge of bankruptcy during the economic tsunami but Elon Musk managed to save Tesla both times, first by striking a deal with Daimler and then by investing most of what remained from his previous successes into Tesla. Thus, he successfully cruised past a time when he felt “closest to having a nervous breakdown”.

Accelerated burial of fossils:

Having recovered well from previous setbacks, Tesla’s Model S won over critics and customers while SolarCity found followers of its own. As Elon reiterated at various interviews, he was certain about the inevitable shift from fossil to sustainable renewable power sources. His personal goal in developing SolarCity and Tesla has been to try and serve as a catalyst to accelerate the transition towards sustainable energy generation and consumption, respectively.

Elon’s SolarCity claims to offer solar panel rooftops that look better, have an increased longevity, provide better insulation and are stronger, that too at an installation cost less than the combined cost of a normal rooftop and electricity of a household. His confidence is evident from the question he posed after unveiling the solar rooftops: When we offer all that, why would you buy anything else?

Innovation in the Transportation Industry

The Hyperloop proposition:

Another big problem that Elon aims to address in future is traffic. Elon critically analyzed the planned California high-speed rail in his blog and suggested a better solution in the form of a 57 -page-long document on the Hyperloop, a 3D network of tunnels that would be connected to normal city roads via car elevators and would use car skates to transport these cars at high speed within the tunnels.

In a recent interview, Elon also assured that the proposed Hyperloop would be earthquake-resistant and almost undetectable, making it safe and easy to be integrated seamlessly into the current scenario without creating much havoc. Although the idea was conceived by Elon, he does not work directly on the technology today. Instead, he chose a boring task for himself as a part-time project.

A boring task:

The major hurdle in realizing the Hyperloop is actually the impracticality and high-cost of creating the required tunnels. So, this was the task that Elon chose to concentrate on by devoting about 2-3% of his time at The Boring Company. Even his staff and interns work part-time towards the development of ‘The Boring Company’ to bring down the cost of the boring by adapting the process efficiently to The Hyperloop. While The Boring Company recently received the permission to build a tunnel below Washington, he hopes that the Hyperloop network eventually gets to connect it to Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City.

The Musk-Do List

Looking at what Elon Musk has accomplished and planned in the energy and transport industries gives a clear insight into his thinking. It can pretty consistently be broken down, industry-independent, as follows.

First, Elon determines a potential future problem to work on. This ‘problem’ may or may not seem crucial at the time when Elon starts talking about it. At times, he may even face opposition or be ridiculed for the sheer absurdity of the idea, but that doesn’t really seem to bother him and he progresses undeterred. Innovation to transform the problem-related industry becomes his goal. Next, he figures out a way to solve the chosen problem in an unprecedented manner. In case of any evident constraints, he doesn’t hesitate before venturing out into the additional industries to address them and figures out an innovative way to solve it. Once he feels like his work is done, he finds another industry to transform.

So, transforming industries to achieve his goals is definitely a part of his vision, but is that it?

Stay tuned for the next article to know why he is considered the ‘Henry Ford’ of Space!


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