(Elon Musk, a self proclaimed free speech absolutist, has inked a deal to acquire Twitter for $44 billion. He says it's not about the money but about free speech and “the future of civilisation.” He wants to 'save' the company and unlock it's potential. But this isn't the first time Musk has made such grand promises. Will he deliver this time? This piece was first published on 9 March.)
There are hits and misses, in every business. In most, there are more misses, at the start, than hits. Success, after all, comes in fits and starts. It’s just the style in which innovation and markets choose to play their complex mating ritual.
Hucksters screech, punters plead, and most innovators do a mix of the two. Judiciously, when they fail, most usually retreat into a recuperative silence.
None of this, however, applies to Elon Musk. Here is a fecund mind that wants the world to notice his very mind whirring. His self-confidence is always hyped enough for you to possibly miss on figuring if the product’s ready for market or not.
Gladiator of the Stock Market
Musk's leaps of faith are like ticketed public spectacles. Imagine a gladiator getting his family in the stands for a joust, where he doesn’t even know his opposition or even about his armour. Bloodsports of this sort aren’t for the queasy or the markets, either.
But we’re guessing that someone omitted to send that particular Comms 1.01 memo to Musk, as he was prepping for his great game. Image managers like me, watch safely from the sidelines wishing him success at most times and willing a stumble ever so often. It’s just the way it is.
Yet, nothing, just nothing, seems to stop the man. The rules simply don’t seem to matter to this entrepreneurial force of nature. Communicate he must, to a rhythm that’s only in his version of the metaverse.
As the Ukraine invasion by Russia rolled out, severing connectivity in many places, there inevitably came news of a Starlink initiative to rectify matters.
Elon promised the beleaguered Ukrainian citizens that he’d airdrop his hubs to keep their internet safe from the invading armies and missiles. And the word is out that he’s delivered, at least in part.
In contrast, in another hot spot, locals and revolutionaries fighting the military junta in Myanmar, have been asking for a Starlink link, but Musk is yet to address it.
Perhaps it’s caution or maybe he didn’t want to tangle with the military? Or maybe, just maybe, his Comms folks believed, those Links weren’t quite battle-ready? They clearly are now, if we’re to go by sporadic reports from within Ukraine.
Musk Magic: Robust or Rusty?
Yet, it’s not always that way. For someone as clever as Musk, it’s unlikely that his mind could ever move slower than his tongue. It may seem so, but the flow (and dare I say, glow) of his communications does, on occasion, come a-cropper.
Especially, I’ve noticed, he falters when he tries to wander into areas that are not, yet at least, his ken. There are red-face times when his brilliant Boring Company doesn’t deliver micro-projects.
Like the “magic yellow submarine”, he’d flaunted with unseemly fanfare. Flown in to save children trapped underground in northern Thailand in 2018.
Musk is undoubtedly a fixer with a saviour complex. Just not a very successful one. Businessman he’s adeptly equipped to be, even stock-market punter, but Saviour, on that, hold the epithets.
The most recent Muskian Comms disaster was when he tried to take on the scourge of COVID. Having first dismissed it, like some anti-vaxxers, as a myth, he then proceeded to promise the world that he would churn out ventilators.
But clearly, this is not a technology that is core to his current enthusiasms. Almost predictably it almost got undone, rather humiliatingly and visibly. Fortunately, he then gradually crept away from that issue. A rare admission, albeit unsaid, of fallibility? Hyperventilating was averted, narrowly, we understand.
Retreating gracefully isn’t a mode that our favourite Madman Musk is familiar with. Better men than him would’ve turned quiet or sullen, but no, he wouldn’t fade away from the scene of failure. Sulk he did. Diss he would. And as for silence, what’s that? His panicked minders always worry about that.
Why Musk Matters
Why does Musk matter? Because his mega-bets have become melded into humanity’s hopes. He harnesses his histrionics to give hope to a world cowed down by a numbing credo of caution, market regulators, legislative niceties and mandatory political correctness.
He’s that maverick ray of hope that refutes, almost, the very laws of physics, the niceties of most societies and most certainly of PR, as she’s practised. He reaches for the stars. He’ll alter our destiny. Saviour, he may not be, but Hero, we’ve made him already.
After all, going by valuations and by his gangs of adulating groupies in the millions, he’s winning. Even when he missteps he can do no wrong. That body armour he wears isn’t some garden-variety Kevlar. He’s kryptonite-coated, as far as reputation goes.
This isn’t because he chooses to explain himself. Au contraire his very cryptic commentary is part of his kryptonite lure. One tweet brings markets to hell and with a casual other, the man creates a veritable market scramble for a cryptocurrency of his choice. Even when the technology isn’t of his making, his backing forces its values to climb.
And only this Genie knows when to rub that magic lamp. Sure, there are stumbles. Yes, he’s been humbled. Rules have held him back. Mudslides have subdued some forays but, by and large, he’s still the last man standing and tweeting when the dust has settled.
(This story was first published on 9 March and has been republished from The Quint's archives in light of Elon Musk sealing a deal to acquire Twitter for $44 billion.)
(Dilip Cherian is an Image Guru, former bureaucrat, editor, and entrepreneur. He advises HNIs on angel investing, has been on the boards of ASCI and the Kautilya School of Public Policy. He tweets @dilipthecherian. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)