Today, I started reading Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, what many call the definitive biography of Elon Musk, by Ashlee Vance. I’ve only been through a part of this book, but it got me thinking about the state of innovation today and just how creative humans are, to actually dream up these innovations.
I’ve written before about how innovation seems to be dwindling and how there is very little technological progress happening nowadays. Every year we think of all the progress mankind is bound to make in pretty much every field there is. But all we get are incremental updates to existing technology, just like cars. It is, as Peter Thiel put it, “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters”.
I am not alone in this school of thought. In fact, Jonathan Huebner, a physicist working at the Pentagon’s Naval Air Warfare Center was one of the first people to notice this lull in innovation. In 2005, he delivered a paper, “A Possible Declining Trend in Worldwide Innovation“, almost like a warning of the things to come. Huebner shows that the frequency of life-changing inventions had started to slow compared to the centuries before it.
Here’s something else I like to think about. Innovation occurs more frequently and in a much better way when there is an environment that supports a liberal sharing of ideas.
The concept of the single heroic inventor and the eureka moment are in reality, just myths. Actually, innovation comes around with the collaboration of ideas and the slow development of an idea or thoughts into a fully matured plan in their minds.
In fact, the more I think of it, the more I realize that innovation occurs when the right set of conditions are present at just the right time and people are able to develop an idea that works off another existing idea.
However, these statements are invalid when we’re on the topic of Elon Musk. Reading through this book, it’s easy to understand why a lot of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs worship and try to emulate Steve Jobs and Musk. There is that infinite amount of energy that is so contagious. And an enviable amount of confidence that oozes out of him, putting him on the track to success. But above all, it is that meticulous and resourceful nature, the will to keep striving, putting in 48 hours of work just to get your startup off the ground that really helped him reach where he is today.
When you’re a man with a vision so futuristic and revolutionary like Elon’s, you tend to free yourself of the typical routes of innovation. You become a one-man innovation machine, churning out idea after idea, chasing moonshots and goals others deem impossible.
I’m pretty sure no other person has had an impact so profound, in such a short time, as Musk has. Founding two startups within 5 years, becoming a millionaire and then sinking all that money into two notoriously risky businesses seems like a pretty foolish move, but his perseverance helped him through the darkest of times. Those two risky businesses I mentioned are today worth
billions BILLIONS of dollars, and Musk himself is valued at around $10 billion. Innovation might be on a downward spiral, but Elon Musk has redefined what innovation is, simply with his long-term vision of protecting the spark of human consciousness in the Universe, by making us an interplanetary, space traveling civilization.
I knew a lot about Elon Musk before I started reading this book, but now I have a greater insight into what makes this man tick, what drives him. Sure enough, Silicon Valley has churned out global darlings like Facebook that have connected and touched a billion lives or more, but Elon Musk’s companies and his vision will affect a whole lot more people than that.