Elon Musk is Going
Yesterday we talked about the fact that innovating isn’t as easy as it used to be. As the pace of technological progress continually accelerates, the shelf life of our brands’ competitive advantages shorten accordingly. And as the value of a company’s internal knowledge depreciates, their continued success starts to rely instead on their ability to innovate quickly, and repeatedly.
Elon Musk, on the other hand, doesn’t take much interest in the debate at all.
Which isn’t to say that he disagrees with the argument. But in his own words, he has little patience for incremental innovation. Musk is the founder and figurehead electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors and commercial spaceflight firm SpaceX. And as his startups (if we can call them that) will attest, he’s only interested in starting a company if it can do something “substantially better than what came before.”
Which is to say that he is not interested in competing at all. He wants to build companies that are so radically beyond what is available in the current market, that he can develop it in a minimally competitive market.
Private spaceflight has been a pipe dream for decades, and Musk’s SpaceX is the first company to achieve it at scale. Sure, Richard Branson’s space tourism program is off to a good start, but it has a finite purpose at present: to send small groups of people into space for short periods of time. Musk must find it silly.
SpaceX, for its part, isn’t interested in the glamour of space travel. They aren’t appealing to millionaires with a desire to briefly experience weightlessness. Instead, they’re trying to bridge the gap between what our public spaceflight program could accomplish with the Space Shuttle, and the very real possibilities that exist for mankind.
As Musk remarked, we’re at a pivotal time: for the first time in 4.5 billion years, our lifespans are long enough to get us to other planets. And he won’t rest until we’re on Mars.
Yesterday, he discussed SpaceX’s plans to build reusable rockets that dramatically lower the costs of space travel. A few days ago, they initiated one of the first launches of their new rocket technology, which Musk showed in a short video during the keynote:
It’s one of several specific space products they’re developing today, including the Dragon 2 capsule which can return to earth in a targeted manner - unlike the capsules we’re used to which parachute to earth and land in a general geography, the Dragon 2 can land with the accuracy of a helicopter. Why? Because it sounds like something we can all use. Not because there’s a competitor, or even because there is a clearly defined balance sheet that shows the ROI of hyper-accurate, self-landing space capsules.
What the hell will we do with such a technology? Musk’s thought it through, and you or I can think of a dozen ways it will change the world around us. Which leaves only one thing to do. Build it, and find out.
Not exactly the typical words of a C-suite executive.
by Zach Pentel