One like = one opinion (+reason) about Elon Musk.

Took the @vgr bait to do a one-opinion-per-like personal challenge. Live-fire stress test of your brainstorming capacity
1. We should strive to live in a world where Elon Musk is unremarkable. “Oh yeah, that guy getting to Mars. He’s cool but I’m a fan of the guy building a tunnel between China and the US”
2. Elon is a master of seamless story modification.

(Paraphrased) In interviews before OpenAI: “I always knew there were 3 important things: money, transportation, and space”

After OpenAI: “I always knew there were 4 important things: money, transportation, space, and AI”
3. Elon set a precedent of “you need to go make a bunch of money in software before you can work on sweet sci fi shit”

My hunch is that this is net negative because of the number of people who go for the first part and get stuck.
4. Elon doesn’t so much shift Overton windows as punches new ones.

(Aside - most of these opinions are going to have a slightly negative tinge. I am actually a huge Elon fan but most of the good things to say have been done to death. Will try to do new when I can.)
5. Elon’s popularity* is a signal of latent desire for ambitious projects in the physical world.

People don’t see how they can contribute so they root for him. The logical conclusion is that we need more outlets for that enthusiasm.

*even detractors say “sweet, but won’t work”
6. Elon’s ability to force of will things into existence obscures how badly we need new systems for turning science fiction into reality.

“Clearly the system works ok - we have SpaceX and Tesla and OpenAI etc.” is a more dangerous sentiment than “no that won’t work”
7. Elon’s charisma and “first principles” arguments for the way big problems should be attacked creates an uphill battle for other options that don’t have an advocate.

Reusable rockets are great, but what about EM launchers?

Solar panels are great, but what about fission?

8. People forget that Elon was basically treated like a crackpot for *years* before SpaceX successfully launched.

The question it raises is “how many projects have died because their crackpot leaders weren’t well-connected decamillionaires?”
9. Elon is an exemplar of definite optimism. He has a clear, well articulated vision of a science fiction future.

It’s compelling, but crowds out other equally awesome futures. Read science fiction. Learn the associated science. Decide for yourself.
10. Many people have noted how the visions of Elon’s companies have convinced some of the best in the world to work more hours for less money.

It’s not just mission- it’s mission + rational hope of success.

If you have influence and power- help missions bootstrap that hope.
11. Elon is a great case study for people who reject the “great man” theory of history.

As someone who cared about space and energy before Elon got into them, I would like to hear arguments for why what had happened was inevitable.
12. Elon is neither a flawless god-king or a lucky huckster. Or maybe he’s both.

In some cases he’s spot on, visionary, and inspiring.

In some cases he’s misguided, misleading, and irresponsible.

I suspect you may not be able to get one without the other.
13. Elon’s recent successes are due to both free markets *and* governments.

SpaceX couldn’t exist without NASA - both direct $$ and process knowledge. Tesla+Li-ion tech has gotten tons of government subsidies.

And all would be wasted without market incentives.

14. Ascribing superhuman qualities to Elon is bad for two reasons.

1) It hamstrings ambition. "I need 8 hours of sleep and I'm not a millionaire so might as well not try."

2) It chills support for ambitious projects. "I like what she's trying to do, but she's no Elon..."
15. Elon Musk should cause cognitive dissonance in more people:

"Software is how to change the world!"//"SpaceX, Boring Company, Hyperloop are some of the most exciting projects!"

"I don't invest in hardware companies"//"I wish I had invested in Tesla/SpaceX"

16. Elon's communication style is super effective in part because of his precision. Pay attention to how much detail he uses but how it's in service of the bigger point.
17. Elon's precise communication style completely makes you forget that he's not actually the best orator.

Most people do the opposite - they use superb oratory to obscure imprecise thought.
18. Elon doesn't understand how modern machine learning works.

See the relative imprecision of the way he talks about "AI" contra other things.
19. Elon is the direct intellectual descendent of Thomas Edison.

Both were master storytellers who hoarded credit and used it to build larger-than-life reputations as innovators and used it to push massive technological change into the world.
20. Most of the ideas attributed to Elon aren't original, but that doesn't matter.

What is original: His articulation of them in a way that makes them seem feasible and excites people.

This is why it's stupid to dismiss ideas just 'because they've been tried before.'
21. Other things that I think are both true and don't matter:

1) I have a hunch Elon is a brutal boss
2) He gives the impression he does things singlehandedly
3) Elon's Mom is a celebrity and his family is well-connected
22. Elon's balance between get-shit-done intensity and playfulness is underrated. It's very easy to get pushed one way or another.
23. Elon illustrates the power of cultural cross-disciplinarianism. The parties, launch events, and general feel of his companies are very LA, not Silicon Valley.

What else could be unleashed by more cultural cross-disciplinarianism?
24. People shouldn't let Elon blindly polarize them.

Both on the fanboy side "Elon can do no wrong!" and the hater side "Everything Elon does is a fraud/dangerous/unoriginal."
25. Elon fails to deliver on many promises* but almost eliminates the emotional/memory impact because of excellent announcement timing and storytelling.

See "seamless story modification" in tweet #2

*remember solar roofs, autosummon, level 4 autonomy coming next year, etc?
27. Elon has bad feedback loops.

From what I can tell not knowing him (so massive grain of salt) he has nobody he respects who can push back on his ideas. Maybe Gwynne Shotwell in a SpaceX context.

Add that to hordes of fanboys who accept everything or haters who reject all.
28. It's hard to tell which parts of Elon's persona are manufactured so that he can become the person he needs to be to win and which were there originally.

This probably doesn't matter.
29. Elon strives for celebrity both because it's crucial for pushing his future-vision agenda *and* because he likes the attention.

Celebrity is one of the powerful ways to get into people's heads outside your domain.

I don't think you can be an amazing showman sans enjoyment.
30. Elon is surprisingly low-salience outside the kind of people who are reading this thread.

In 2015, I lived downstairs from a woman who had never heard of him, Tesla, or SpaceX. Times have changed, but not that much.

This is a reason why the celebrity is important.
31. It's fascinating how tightly Elon has bound himself to his projects in our minds. Look at this thread - I use him, SpaceX, Tesla, etc. almost interchangeably.

I wonder how he does it so effectively.
32. Elon's other historical parent is Howard Hughes (in addition to Edison.)

Brilliant, risk taking polymath engineer/businessmen pushing the limits in aerospace.

Note that you've absolutely heard of Edison, but perhaps not Hughes. This will be relevant
33. (Non-paypal) Elon projects are surprisingly low-direct-impact on most people. Most of us don't interact with rocket launches, fancy cars, etc. regularly.

The promise/dream/assumption is that they will hit a tipping point to mass impact any minute now - starlink, model 3
34. It's also fascinating that there seems to be post-SpaceX Elon and pre-SpaceX Elon.

Pre-SpaceX Elon worked almost exclusively on software projects (except aborted PhD project.)

I would call these two "Bitland Elon" and "Atomland Elon."
36. Most of Elon's projects ride the razor's edge between success and failure.

I think both people who say any of them are doomed to failure or destined to succeed are wrong.

SpaceX could be screwed by a single disaster/contract change. Tesla could lose the faith of the market
37. The quote "you either die a hero or live long enough to become the villain" feels apt to Elon.

Historically, public opinion towards celebrity innovators is shockingly fickle. As soon as they stop a steady stream of perceived successes the narrative goes sour.
38. Elon is amazing at using hype waves and bubbles to get things off the ground but has the timing or foresight to untether from them.

Paypal exited just before the stock crash. OpenAI got on the AI hype train at the right time. SpaceX+commercial launch. Tesla + greentech
39. It's fascinating how un-involved Elon is in the startup/tech ecosystem.

To my knowledge, he doesn't angel invest, help startups, sit on other boards, etc. It's his projects or bust.
40. At first glance Elon seems unfocused (so many projects! so many industries!) but the way that he *only* works on *his* projects is actually a type of focus that few of us have.

Note him divesting from OpenAI once it wasn't really his project anymore.
41. Elon's consistent playfulness is underrated.

See: twitter, tesla in space stunt, cameos in shows/movies, etc.

Playfulness in general is underrated - I suspect it's a hard-to-fake indicator of thinking for yourself. Adults, esp in public, are expected to have decorum.
42. (Weird) Elon Musk is the face of a kind of human-organization organism.

He doesn't come up with all the ideas and designs or build all the things but provides the story-framework to make them all more compelling.

In the same way 'humanity' kind of acts like an organism
43. I suspect Elon's height helps him get things done.

It's not talked about a lot, but Elon is a pretty big guy (6'2"/188cm)

There's a lot of evidence (anecdotal and statistical) that height helps in business and leadership.

I might just think this because I'm short.
44. Ceteris paribus, Elon’s projects will not outlive him.

I have seen no evidence for the systemization necessary to escape the charismatic founder/leader trap.

It’s the opposite side of the direct involvement and celebrity support rallying coin.

This of course could change
45. It’s impressive how *little* generic advice Elon gives.

He could easily spout “You should do X to be successful” and people would eat it up, but I haven’t seen that.

(May have missed it, ofc)

Usually when people sleep 3 hours and to emulate him its their own prerogative.
46. Another notable omission is Elon opinions about (esp political) things he’s not directly involved in.

Of course he’s directly involved in many things, but I have no idea what his ideas are on most issues or topics.

I assume it’s tempting for him to weigh in.
47. I suspect Elon is not a good manager.

This comes from (anecdotal) evidence that teams he runs directly tend to deliver less and have a high turnover rate.

Note - Being a bad manager does not make someone a bad person or a bad leader.
48. Elon Musk’s hair looks way better now than it did 20 years ago.

I suspect it makes him more effective - as much as we are lothe to admit it, we treat good looking people better.

(See note earlier in thread about playfulness 😉)
49. I worry about Elon giving false impressions about the reality of the space economy.

Sadly, most space companies are bad businesses and those that might be good businesses usually face a brutal chicken and egg problem, limp along, and then die.
50. An under-noted part of Elon's effectiveness is that he has an extremely competent personal staff who are willing to support him without trying to get personal glory.
51. Anything out there purporting to talk about 'the real Elon' are either propaganda or a hit piece.

If the author has access then Elon gets to shape the narrative. Otherwise the narrative is 'I figured out the secret!'

(I think this is true for almost any living person.)
52. Elon is almost a poster child for the idea of focusing on your sphere of influence and slowly expanding it from '7 Habits of Highly Effective People'

(realized this from tweet earlier in thread on him not talking much about things he's not directly working on)
53. Elon's family helped in his success.

Having a celebrity mother and internationally known grandfather can't help but teach you things and expose you to possibilities.

But that doesn't diminish his accomplishments at all. People with head starts should just face higher bars?
54. If Elon had the 'balanced life' that many people advocate, he would fail. There just isn't enough time and mental bandwidth.

That's not to say that nobody should strive for a balanced life.

Some things might just not be possible to achieve while maintaining 'balance.'
55. Given the above, it's actually impressive that he has a family at all.

I honestly don't even understand how he had the bandwidth to get married, regardless of how well or badly it turned out.
56. Elon's sweet spot is moving from Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 5->9: Systems proven in relevant environments -> operation.

Corollary: even if you think "oh Elon's got us covered" we still need people doing equally ambitious things in TRL 1->5
57. Elon's 'project generation function' looks like*:

1) Find old idea that had a fundamental constraint that has been relaxed by new technology
2) Figure out what can be done by 10-20 people with ~$10-50m in 1-3 years
3) Do it

*From the outside, obviously
58. I love that project generation function (see #57) and I'm secretly afraid that Elon has found all the ideas that fit it.
59. Statistically, it seems like there should actually be many *more* things that fit Elon's project generation function.

Which means that if there were more people attacking the world that way we should have many more incredible projects.
60. I'm also worried that the entire crisp 'project generation function' is an post-hoc story that I (and others) overlay on a much less structured process.

People both love building stories to make sense of the world and it serves Elon's interests to project strategic genius.
61. Elon clearly thinks about technical constraints with deep precision, regardless of the crispness of his 'project generation function'

Most people: batteries are too heavy and expensive for cars
Elon: batteries weigh X and cost Y. To win, would need to weigh A and cost B.
62. Precisely 'going down into the weeds' allows Elon (and anybody) to think for themselves because he can ask "how do I close the precise gap between now world and future one?"

It's kind of like the ideation version of Bret Victor's ladder of abstraction
63. Unlike Elon, most people who think of themselves as 'big picture thinkers' don't dig down to the precise numbers.

Not going into the weeds makes it impossible to have different axioms which makes it impossible to build different opinions and ideas.
64. Say what you will about Elon, he's at least memorized a lot of numbers around physical processes.

This is underrated.

Many geeks (myself included) used to have the attitude of "I can derive things, I don't need to memorize."
65. My hunch is that Elon’s number-memorizing enables him to “pattern match” the physical world.

simplest case, you know the reason we can’t build a bridge is because it requires a material that can withstand loads of x.

You then learn about a new material with strength x. Tada
66. Elon is probably better at internalizing these things than other people.

But not enough people even try.

The inspiration for this was a point by one of @andy_matuschak or @michael_nielsen about how to "design" Arabic numerals you would need to internalize math *and* design
67. (Inspired by previous few tweets) I think there is some value in Elon Musk the icon if used as a way to figure out “how can we be better?”

It takes more work to be inspired by normal humans.
68. I wonder what the breakdown of Elon perceptions are between:
- Tech Inspiration
- Dangerous megalomaniac
- Generic celebrity only worth paying attention to because other people are paying attention
- Who?
69. Elon takes advantage of the human tendency to linearly extrapolate rates of change.

He maintains excitement with a steady stream of announcements that we extrapolate into the future - "well if they've made this much progress, surely they will continue at this rate."
70. Leveraging the ‘extrapolation fallacy’ is neither good nor bad.

On the one hand, it rallies critical masses of capital and excitement (more on this later.)

On the other hand, it can lead to misleading demos, cutting corners, and pushing teams to deliver the undeliverable.
71. Elon is also a good illustration* of how continuous changes can lead to discrete changes in how things are done.

Dropping battery prices made Teslas competitive luxury cars. He did similar things with spacecraft manufacturing.

*regardless of whether he drives or rides it.
72. Elon's treatment of hyperloop is confusing because it doesn't fit the pattern of owning projects.

My hunch is that it isn't feasible for political reasons, he's realized it, and having several different companies is a sneaky way of quietly disengaging.
73. Although it is fascinating how people still attribute any project working on Hyperloop to Elon.

I think it just comes down to the storytelling searing the connection in people's brains and it being a useful fiction for journalists to maintain.
75. Elon’s sci-fi/reality blurring line is not actually new, especially in the aerospace industry.

NASA, Boeing, Lockheed, etc have been publishing concept art and "worlds of tomorrow" for decades.

(Will add some references later)
76. The difference between Elon concepts and others is that people are jaded against other aerospace and Auto industry concepts - putting them squarely in the "sci-fi" bucket.
77. I suspect that attitudes towards "future concepts" in general used to be much closer to how people respond to Elon.

It's easy to look at the concept art from the '50s and think "nobody actually believed that hokum"
78. If you look at it, the projected trend line of the world in the 50s made *all* future concepts look more like reality than sci fi.

This makes me double down on my opinion that Elon’s trend line perception management is one of the most important things. (See earlier tweets)
79. It's funny to compare extrapolation-based attitudes towards SpaceX/atomland things and Paypal/bitland things.

PayPal had an ambitious vision too - the future of money! But in the software world, visions like that are a dime a dozen - almost to the point of being *expected*
80. I don't think that Elon projects are the best businesses.

Both in terms of putting money in people's pockets and in delivering life changing goods and services.

Many companies you've never heard of are better biz

(Remeber: opinion and I haven't dug deeply into numbers)
81. Elon projects *are* as far as I can tell, the best businesses built on what I call “type I progress” - productizing the frontier of human knowledge.

I think that’s why people find them exciting and then conflate that excitement with them being actually amazing businesses.
82. This excitement conflation causes people to invest in them (with time and $$) as if they are good businesses.

In effect creating a localized bubble.
83. I have mixed opinions about Elon bubbles. Hype-bubbles have negative connotations but it can actually have massive positive effects in the future.

Railroads, broadband, canals - basically anything that requires massive infrastructure wouldn’t exist without bubbles.
84. Is Elon leveraging human irrationality? I think so.

Rational investors don't fund the future.

There is a bright line between lying and optimism though: it's how you construe the present. I don't know enough details to say where Elon falls. I suspect both sides.
85. Being an irrational investment doesn't necessarily mean Elon is a *bad* investment either. (We've already established that Elon the icon and his projects are basically interchangable.)

I'd argue early Google, Facebook, Intel, Apple etc were all irrational investments.
86. For all my gushing about precise thinking and constraint analysis, it may be impossible to know whether Elon's projects will work until you just get out there and start executing.

There is a lot of learning-by-doing that can make the difference between success and failure.
87. You can reconcile both "precise constraint analysis" and "outcome unknown until trying" by looking at the constraint analysis as asking "what specifically would need to be true for this to work?"

(This may of course be me desperately trying to have consistent beliefs)
88. It's awesome that Elon is, at his core, a giant nerd.

Obviously, it could be part of the persona engineered to be an icon but if so he's mastered the shibboleths really really well.
89. In a way, the nerdiness generates trust.

Because for all the rhetoric about existential risk and such if my mental model is correct his ulterior motive is "make more awesome sci fi sh*t."

It is very possible this is me projecting.
90. Elon resonates strongly with us SV types in part because it is so easy to project on him.

I know many people who strongly pattern match against the Elon story up until SpaceX - did a cool software thing (slightly less $$), listlessly looking for next project.

It’s uncanny.
91. The difference between the Elon arc and the normal tech person is that the normal tech person just plows everything back into the software world.

It's hard and uncomfortable and high risk to switch worlds.

This is why I push back on the "win at software first" path
93. On qualified optimism - Elon does actually say "this is going to be hard" and "we're not sure this will work" but somehow emotionally blows past it so that nobody remembers it.

I'm interested in how he does that.
94. Elon's (approximate) stance that 'if you raise concerns that this might work you are a cynic and against clean energy, humanity, and the future' bothers me.

At the same time, I get why he does it - see previous tweets about leadership and nuance.

Is there a third option?
95. Elon (and his team) are great at naming things.


They're evocative, classy, and short.

I'm jealous because they've staked claims on so much prime mental real estate.
96. Elon takes advantage of the fact that really good names do something in the mind - they can actually shift your perception of a think.

The great names probably shift our perceptions of unfinished projects towards believing they're more real than they are.
97. (Less serious) Speaking of names, naming the rocket recovery drone ships after the ships in The Culture Series is just classy.

See earlier tweet about playfulness.

It's weird how when most other people/companies try to give things cool names, it just feels forced.
98. You have to respect the fact that Elon puts a lot of skin in the game.

I saw something claiming that he put up the majority of both the A and B rounds in SpaceX. Lots of net worth in his projects.

He definitely pushes these stories, but they seem grounded in truth.
99. Not enough people realize Elon didn't start Tesla and that many of his numbers are wrong.

I am not going to try to justify it. It's just more fuel on the uncomfortable duality fire.
100. Elon is a lot of things: human, icon, right, wrong, brilliant, lucky, scammy, visionary.

At the end of the day, most of us will never interact with him directly so in a way he lives in our heads.

So why not use him to inspire you to do awesome shit?
101. I'm not a fan of Elon's taste in parties - they have a very LA-y private club vibe.

(Aside) I am going to make good on the promise of 1 opinion/like but am going to take a short breather now that I hit 100. Also going to branch out and talk about specific Elon projects.
102. Looking at the responses to any of Elon's tweets makes me sympathetic: it would be hard have an intelligent public discourse if he wanted to.
103. Comparing SpaceX with Blue Origin and Armadillo Aerospace* shows the importance of having a "money factory" and the effects of different kinds of money factories.

*The three rocket companies started by wealthy individuals ( @JeffBezos and @ID_AA_Carmack respectively.)
Elon/SpaceX money factory is outside investors and business

Jeff/BO money factory is $AMZN

John/Armadillo didn't have a money factory - they just had a "money mine": John's personal wealth from software.
SpaceX is hype-y, has moved fast and has done more (imho) "real" things, but also more "boring" things and has changed direction more.

Blue Origin has been slowly, steadily, and quietly, building out the same game plan.

Armadillo died because they ran out of money
107. I go back and forth on whether there is a strong “why now” reason for Elon projects or whether they’re just things like wheelbarrows that we’re just waiting in the adjacent possible.

(Part “how do we create better ideas?” Part “how true is great man of history?)
108. In the 21st century, “why now” answers need to revolve around computing, regulations, and (rarely) new materials.*

It’s all one layer deep but all of Elon’s projects do satisfy these except the Boring Company.

*I hope I’m missing things here.
109. The biggest “why now” might be control systems: faster, smaller, and better understood.

We can’t have good Li-ion batteries without control systems (Tesla)

You can’t land a rocket without them.

I assume you need good control systems to scale up micro wires (neuralink)
110. Elon doesn't seem to write much. His twitter is mostly for announcements and trolling.

Nobody discusses it, but it should introduce some cognitive dissonance (it does in me) when held up against the dominant narrative of success through producing good content.
111. Elon Musk's "Boring Company" is the best startup name in recent memory. I've always been a fan of "Eternal Fire" but this is hard to beat.

-- Apparently my opinion, via GPT-3 and @arram
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