Elon Musk is at it again. This time, his Boring Company project has reached massive success after having sold 20 000 units of his ¨Not a Flamethrower¨ blowtorch. As ridiculous as it seems, there is a powerful philosophy behind why Musk´s product is selling. Musk has established a popular and innovative brand that millions of people around the world are refreshed by. In fact, it may seem that the South African born mega-entrepreneur can sell just about anything. However, as much as he continues to create entrepreneurial success for just about any idea, the Musk craze may be slightly bad for innovation and technology.
To be clear, Elon Musk has achieved great entrepreneurial (and in some ways technological) deeds at the helm of PayPal and now Tesla and Space X. There can be little debate about the innovation his ventures have inspired and the significant impact they are creating in the world. Even Boring Company, despite selling consumer goods such as hats and blowtorches, is actually intending to drill tunnels in a traffic-congested Los Angeles, California. If the venture succeeds, Musk intends to create an underground tunnel network with speedy transit. This is certainly innovative and will positively impact urban transportation.
A core problem with the Elon Musk craze is its goofy and ignorant motivation. Musk is well-known to be unorthodox (which is fine) but he also borders on rampant immaturity (which is also fine). A case in point is the name of his Tesla models. Musk named the three models to attempt to spell the word ¨S3X¨ which was only limited by an inability to name the Model 3, Model E instead. Playfulness is no exact sin and can be refreshing in a world where social norms don´t really make sense. However, it skews real innovation with theatrics.
People may be willing to buy anything Musk sells, even if a superior technology exists. He has created such a massive cult of personality that competition becomes extremely challenging. For decades, innovation has steadily moved away from the real technological innovation of a product to merely the perception of innovation through advertised brands. Consider a company like Apple, which is viewed an innovation deity, when instead, the true innovations of smartphone technology belong to smaller technology manufactures which actually invent. Musk has taken this devolution of product-based innovation a step further by linking innovation to a person. From the product to the company to the person, our perception of innovation has shifted dramatically.
The future of innovation in a brand-oriented and now person-oriented consumer environment is an unpleasant reality. Soon, the product will be tertiary to the company and the person. That´s the problem with the Musk craze – it has little to do with innovation at all.