Unless you have been, quite literally, living off-the-grid, then you most likely know the name ‘Elon Musk’. Whether you know him for his electric cars, space travel or solar panels, there is a good chance that you’ve noticed many people have strong opinions about him. Those who admire his work tend to fall into the millennial age group. Those who don’t understand him, well, they tend to be a bit older. In fact, it often seems that, when it comes to Elon Musk, people either love him or hate him. This may seem like a generalization, as there are a considerable number of elderly fans of Mr. Musk. However, it is easy to find many in the baby boomer generation, who didn’t believe an electric car could be “cool”, let alone profitable. For example, presenters Richard Hammond and Jeremy Clarkson did indeed state in 2013 during an episode of Top Gear, that “battery powered electric cars will soon die altogether”, which could not be further from the truth.
The question remains - why is Elon Musk such an appealing figure to 18-to-35-year-olds? Below are 5 reasons to answer just that. Mind you, this article is written by a millennial and therefore you should brace yourself for a reasonable dose of bias (but, representative of my fellow millennials).
1. He is real.
There is a tendency amongst CEOs to sell some sort of a ‘dream narrative’ for their success, one that often undermines the role that sheer luck or inheritance may have played, Elon Musk goes against the grain. Mr. Musk’s advice offers some hope thanks to its honestly and simplicity.
Maybe it’s due to him being educated as an engineer rather than a businessman, but Elon always provides references to basic math and physics principles, laying down a formula for success that is highly logical, almost mathematical. He explains that success often comes from following a clear and efficient strategy in everything that you set your mind to. From this, he states, you will have the highest chance of success. This argument that hard work and strategy will lead to success is more attractive than the generic “I dropped out of Harvard and then started the company in my parents’ garage” storyline. Musk’s underselling of the dream narrative and over-delivering in his business success, makes him a more believable figure to millennials like myself. (See Elon Musk USC Marshall School of Business Undergraduate Commencement Speech)
2. He stays in touch with his audience.
In the age of fast-travelling news, Elon has managed to leverage his social-media presence (Twitter in particular, alongside Reddit and Instagram), making announcements about any one of his companies, bouncing engineering and business ideas off of his social media followers, and giving his two cents on various topics, often with an added dose of sarcasm. This type of non-bureaucratic behavior has helped him gain an avidaudience of intelligent youngsters.
3. Mr. Musk leads a number of companies, which focus on futuristic, progressive and even outlandish topics, one even cooler than the other, across a number of sectors. Let’s examine:
SpaceX: A private American aerospace manufacturer and space transportation services company aiming to make space travel feasible and accessible for anyone.
Tesla Inc.: A multinational corporation that specializes in electric vehicles, lithium-ion battery energy storage and solar panel manufacturing. Can we say he is hell-bent on stopping climate change? – Yes.
SolarCity: Subsidiary of Tesla, focusing on solar panels and sustainable energy.
The Boring Company: An infrastructure, ultra-high-speed transportation technology, and tunnel construction company, through which Mr. Musk is striving to implement the Hyperloop – a sealed tube throughout which a pod may travel free of air resistance or friction transporting people or objects at high speeds.
OpenAI: A not-for-profit artificial intelligent (AI) research company aimed at developing artificial intelligence in a way that is safe and beneficial to humanity.
Neuralink: A neurotechnology startup working to integrate the human brain with artificial intelligence.
And if this list is not enough, it is worth mentioning that Mr. Musk, alongside his brother, played an important role in the creation of PayPal in his late twenties.
4. He seems like a genuinely good guy (although he might not like to admit it).
Take for instance the time in 2015 when Elon Musk boldly announced that Tesla Motors decided to treat its patents as open source. He stated, “Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.” From this it would seem he cares more about technological progress than financial gain. It also seems he wants to give his competitors a fighting chance and keep the playing field open to innovations, regardless of the bankroll of the company.
As is the case with many innovators who swim against the current, he receives a great deal of criticism for his professional and personal life choices.. Take for example the interview he did with Joe Rogan, released on 6th of September 2018 for a podcast (Source:YouTube). Over the course of the interview he and Joe Rogan dove head first into a number of topics, including many that were criticized for their outlandish and implausible nature. Yet, the conversation also put forward viable and progressive solutions to many pressing issues such as traffic congestion, air pollution, and incentivizing the public to get on board with solar energy. Following this interview, the majority of the major news sources have chosen to focus on the moment when Elon Musk accepted Joe Rogan’s invitation to smoke a marijuana cigar (Legal under California law). During the interview, Elon Musk added that he does not normally smoke weed.
This focus on his decision to smoke weed has cast a certain shadow over the interview and has shifted the focus away from the progressive business ideas which were discussed for the majority of the 2-hour segment. In focusing on smoking, instead of his ideas, the media have contributed to the perception of Elon Musk as the people’s hero, anti-establishment, and someone the media is out to misconstrue. This could not be more appealing to the youth. Not only does this contribute to Elon Musk’s “likeability” with young people, it also makes him seem like a regular dude who may make some poor decisions occasionally. We all make mistakes, and being open and honest about them only contributes to Elon Musk’s image as a genuine guy.
5. Last but not least, he wants to send you and me to the moon. Are you in?
In September 2018, Elon Musk announced a fascinating project: send citizens to the moon on a tourist fly-by. The mission is set to take place in 2023, and will launch from Earth, do a loop around the moon and then come back in a vertical landing procedure. The estimated cost of the spaceship (named BFR) is around five to ten billion dollars. While that might sound like a lot of money, it is worth noting that the Apollo missions cost over one hundred billion dollars. Elon Musk’s rockets are actually reusable, making them vastly cheaper and more sustainable than previous space shuttles.
He plans to select the passengers for the journey in another interesting fashion. Introduced during a conference, Japanese billionaire, Yusaku Maezawa (aka Passenger One), stated “I did not want to have such a fantastic experience by myself, that would be a little lonely. I don’t like being alone, so I want to share these experiences and things with as many people as possible. That is why I choose to go to the moon with artists!” He plans to subsidize the travel cost for another eight artists to join him, such as, film directors, painters, dancers, novelists, musicians, fashion designers, sculptors, photographers and architects. He imagines that when they fly out to the moon and look back at the Earth, they will be inspired to create incredible works of art that will benefit the whole of humanity. (More on this project here).
In the long term, the idea is to make space travel commercialized and available to all. While this project is still in the early stage, it could mean that one day, space travel is made available to the masses. Elon has even espoused the desire send humans to Mars, and make humans “multiplanetary.” Who knows, maybe we will skip the moon and head straight for Mars!
With these 5 reasons laid out, there is no doubt that Elon Musk is indeed a unique visionary. Whether people are fans of his or not, his innovations don’t look to cease anytime soon and will continue to impress and innovate into the foreseeable future.