Elon Musk, an American entrepreneur famous for (co)founding multiple socially conscious companies, serves as an example of how waywardness can help better and develop the public. His accomplishments as a businessman and designer include the co-founding of Paypal.com and Tesla Motors, as well as founding the first private space-exploration company, SpaceX, which has absorbed much of NASA’s staff and responsibility in the wake of its own budgetary cuts. Currently, Musk serves as the CEO and Chief Designer at SpaceX, as well as CEO and Product Architect for Tesla Motors. Elon Musk shakes off the negative connotations associated with the word “wayward,” instead using his unorthodox business strategies and direct approach to solving the world’s biggest challenges to garner public favor and help guide society into a brighter future.
Elon Musk’s entrepreneurial mind is not only focused on how best to run a business, but is also on how best to use his companies to better the challenges that society faces currently, such as the growing need for oil alternatives and eventual space exploration.
As a businessman, Musk has taken it upon himself to avoid generating patents on his intellectual property created through his company, SpaceX. This flies in the face in the growing belief that companies produce patents to protect their products, as well as forgoing these patents as assets that can prove profitable to the company. Instead, this defiant strategy of patent abandonment allows for a number of advantages. First, the materials and products produced by SpaceX are meant to serve society’s eventual need for space-exploration, a potential avenue for mankind’s future. By not applying patents to the goods produced by his company, Musk is able to generate interest and collaboration towards these socially-minded goals among parties, without the deterrent of potential collaborators having to pay royalties. Of course, this comes at the cost of those potential royalties, therefore lowering potential profits, a veritable faux pas among business CEOs. Second, by not issuing patents to the products he and his company create, Musk is able to keep the particular details of his designs and products concealed. American patent law requires full disclosure of that which it protects, but global respect towards these laws is often disregarded. Musk, who cites groups in China as his primary competitors for SpaceX, believes that applying patents to his designs would be “farcical,” instead preferring to opt out of disclosing his secrets in a fashion few others consider in this growing time of patent wars (Bhasin). Finally, by promoting community development, an inherent trait of crowd source production, Musk seeks to advance a growing form of economic thought. Known as ‘wikinomics,’ the concept describes new ways in which to do business using collaborative work from multiple sources or companies. Such a concept could only exist in the modern era, as the evolution of the idea traces its origins with the growing trend in outsourcing (transplanting business practices to another company). This system of collaborative work is further propagated by Musk’s openness towards other’s having access to his companies’ products. Such innovation in the design and development phase could become popular and revolutionize the creation of other products from other companies, much in the same way that the assembly-line process did during the Industrial Revolution.
Musk has recently unveiled plans to send 80,000 people to Mars, through his company SpaceX. Such radical planning is usually only seen by governments, and shows traction on one of the most forward-thinking and imaginative ventures in recent memory.
However, it is not only his abandonment of squeezing every drop of profit out of his company that makes Elon Musk a wayward American. Through the companies he has (co)founded over the last decade and a half, Musk displays an admirable attempt to help solve what can only be viewed as some of society’s largest problems. Tesla Motors, perhaps the most iconic of the world’s fully-electric automobile cooperations, seeks to provide society with stylish and affordable cars that run entirely on electricity, an answer to not only the global oil shortage, but also the ever-present environmental concerns that so pervasively eat at the mind’s of everyone. SpaceX also serves to answer important, arguably distant, societal concerns through the advancement of technology and knowledge about the fabled ‘final frontier.’ Musk’s focus on these vast and important challenges that plague nearly all members of American society is generally uncharacteristic of someone in his position. While wealthy men have always (claimed at least) that they were trying to better the world, it is rare that this help originates and serves as the purpose for the financial platforms that these men built. Rather, as is the case with many of Musk’s contemporaries, money is almost arbitrarily thrown at the situations in the hope that an answer will be found one day. While such acts are not to be perceived lightly, such as the “Giving Pledge,” in which billionaire participants give half of their fortune away over their lifetime (of which Musk is a part of), Musk appears to be taking a more direct approach in looking to answer some of civilization’s greatest obstacles.
Musk’s smallest business SolarCity, along with Tesla Motors, inherently display Musk’s determination to solving some of society’s biggest problems: environmental improvement and alternate fuel sources.
Of course, Musk is not the first American entrepreneur to achieve celebrity status and popularity within society. Beginning with the name that would later become embroidered on our subject’s automobiles, Nikola Tesla was viewed by many to display an unprecedented and largely misunderstood intellect; his inventions were viewed as pure science-fiction at the time of their inception. Tesla’s rival, Thomas Edison, also served as America’s dearest inventor after a very public feud between himself and Tesla ended in most of the public losing faith in the latter; Tesla’s career has since forever been plunged into obscurity. Recently, there has been a widespread fascination with former Apple CEO Steve Jobs following his death, his grassroots origins and overwhelming success providing America the kind of narrative that captivates. Each of these men serve not only as businessmen, although each certainly cannot be understood without this, but as a figure of American endearment. This endearment therefore holds them to a certain level of social responsibility that cannot be ignored, lest the American public turn their backs on them (see: Tesla). Such a position in the view of American society is hard to achieve, and undoubtedly harder to maintain. However, Elon Musk, with his smart business tactics, open faced development of products, and socially conscious goals that seek to advance mankind, serves as an excellent example of how waywardness can be reapplied to have a positive connotation.
- Tapscott, D., and A. D. Williams. Macrowikinomics, rebooting business and the world. 1st ed. Portfolio, 2012. Print.
- Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. 1. 1. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011. Print.
- Bhasin, Kim. “ELON MUSK: ‘If We Published Patents, It Would Be Farcical’.” Business Insider:Strategy. Business Insider, 09 2012. Web. 30 Dec 2012.
- Gonzalez, Robert T.. “The billionaire genius who Tony Stark is based on wants humans on Mars within 15 years.”io9.com. Gawker Media, 08 2012. Web.
- “Biography.” Elon Musk. N.p., n. d. Web. Web. <http://elonmusk.com/>.