By: Will Blasingame, Editor
As one of the greatest entrepreneurs of our time, Elon Musk has founded disruptively innovative companies such as Tesla and SpaceX. How is it that one man has been able to revolutionize two separate industries, auto and space, that have not seen disruptive innovation in several decades? Today we are going to look at the hidden philosophy behind Elon Musk.
In his 2005 article “A possible declining trend for worldwide innovation”, Jonathan Huebner describes innovation as a tree, with the trunk and large branches being innovations that transform the entire world, such as fire, the wheel, and airplanes. He hypothesizes that we have now reached the outer branches where only small innovations are made, such as a better engine in a car that still works on the same principle. This has lead to many parodying Nietzsche in saying “Innovation is dead and we killed it.”
In fact, the modern tech company likely follows the business plan laid out by The Lean Startup. With this plan, companies must develop only a minimum viable product (MVP), release it, get feedback from consumers, adjust their product, and release again, in effect letting consumers decide what they want the product to be. Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal and early investor in Facebook, rails on this strategy in his book Zero to One claiming that it does not allow for founders to attempt to change the world into a future that not even consumers can imagine. And if there’s one thing Elon Musk wants to do, its change the world.
Musk rejects the Huebner philosophy of innovation in favor of one similar to Peter Thiel’s “definite optimism” philosophy outlined in Zero to One. In other words, the future can be exceedingly better than the present if we work toward our specific goal of what we want that future to look like. No one exemplifies this better than Elon Musk who envisions the future where humans drive their electric cars powered by solar energy through underground tunnels, both on Earth and on Mars.
Ashlee Vance notes in her Musk biography, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, that Musk’s work has led many to shifting their view of innovation from something dying to something we can grow, if only we set our minds on what we want the future to look like and work toward that.