Elon Musk is a South African born entrepreneur who exists in the rarefied air of Silicon Valley. He is renowned for tackling huge problems and thinking way outside the box. This has led some speculators to make comparisons between Musk and Nikola Tesla, his idol and fellow mad scientist.
Nikola Tesla is the genius behind modern alternating current. He discovered a way to harness this immense power source, hence, changing society irrevocably.
Thomas Edison was Tesla’s rival in the burgeoning electricity movement. Edison ran public relations campaigns in which he slandered Tesla and his alternating current. Famously, one such PR stunt involved electrocuting an adult elephant to death, in order to prove how ‘unsafe’ Tesla’s electricity indeed was.
Incredibly, this PR campaign worked. Edison’s electricity won out and Tesla was consigned to the annals of history. However, Tesla has experienced a resurgence in popularity. Nikola Tesla is now acknowledged to be an inventor without parallel, despite the best efforts of Thomas Edison.
Comparisons are being drawn between these two men because of Elon Musk’s tremendous entrepeneurial success. As of writing, Musk is one of the few men alive to have built three ‘billion dollar companies’ from scratch. These include SpaceX, Tesla, and the Boring company.
Tesla is a car manufacturer that builds exclusively electric automobiles. Not only have they revolutionized the electric car, but they have also made it the epitome of cool to own one. Musk aimed to alleviate the threat of environmental collapse by inventing a greener alternative to the petroleum car. This has earned him praise for the sheer ambition he has shown in executing what many said could not be done.
While sitting in bumper to bumper Los Angeles traffic one evening, Musk had a brainwave. He created a Twitter post stating: “Traffic is driving me nuts. I am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging”. Musk made this fantasy a reality in 2018 when he started the Boring company. The idea is to stack tunnels in a three-dimensional pattern and fix the traffic issues of Los Angeles in one fail swoop. The visionary idea raised eyebrows at first but council planners were convinced and 2018 saw the first tunnel opened under LA.
SpaceX is the leading private space travel country in the world. They have made history this year with the first private flight to the international space station. Musk is aiming to give humanity a contingency plan in the worst case scenario of environmental catastrophe. He sees a bright future in which human culture is spread across the Milky Way and further afield. Many believe that Musk is the man with enough vision and know-how to usher in a new era of space exploration.
After seeing his glowing track record, it is no wonder that people are in awe of Musk’s apparent genius. An interview in India Today with a former executive puts it like this: “He is the smartest person I have ever met and that’s Elon’s genius, he knows what people want before they know.”
However, several controversies have changed the perception of this inventor. Tirades on Twitter have gotten him embroiled in costly legal battles, leading some to label him ‘erratic’. Musk was a guest on the Joe Rogan Podcast and imbibed a small amount of cannabis. This had a profound impact on shareholder confidence and Musk lost millions in company valuation. This does not take away from his profound achievements, even a CEO worth billions is allowed a slip-up or two.
So far Musk’s “mad genius” has enabled him to push the boundaries of technology and come up with solutions to problems nobody else seems able to solve. Time will tell if Musk will measure up to the expansive genius of Nikola Tesla. Yet, the market awaits his next venture with bated breath, excited to see what incredible invention emerges from the mind of this truly visionary thinker.