It had to happen. I’ve started calling Elon Musk ‘the new Steve Jobs’. He’s a fantastic visionary, prepared to disrupt business models and markets in order to push the boundaries of our thinking. He’s a genuine risk-taker, and you have to admire him because he bleeds purpose all over the place.
Musk wants to build a better planet for us. One of his big hairy goals is to reduce global warming by orchestrating more sustainable energy production and consumption. He’s prepared to invest heavily in projects that carry a high chance of failure like the SpaceX reusable rockets. His latest idea is to build an electric plane that takes off vertically, to avoid having to create more runways.
The Musk mantra probably goes something like that Samuel Beckett quote: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” Like Jobs, Musk is attracted to revolution over evolution – he’s way ahead of the curve, trying to figure out what society needs before we even know it ourselves.
Musk, I think, can go further than Jobs in terms of his influence though. Why? Because his creations are based on sharing, on knowledge transfer. He is very much open platform – look how he opened up Tesla patents to advance the electric vehicle movement. Almost unheard of. Last year, he launched OpenAI, an open source artificial intelligence platform to democratise R&D in this space for a more positive human impact.
Contrast this with Jobs’ penchant for a closed universe; Apple’s famed tight hugging of its platforms, its apps, even its supply chain. Only recently Apple came under fire for claims that its latest operating system permanently disables iPhone 6 handsets if it detects a whiff of third-party repair.
A move like this, if intentional, doesn’t encourage wider moves like circular remanufacture. Unless it’s done by Apple, of course. The company launched an iPhone upgrade programme for customers last year in the US, which suggests foundations are being laid for a global takeback scheme. Is Apple looking for greater control over its component parts at end-of-use?
It’s interesting to note that Apple is a fully paid up member of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation Circular Economy 100 elite. Good intentions, certainly. But there are concerns that global multi-nationals who are leading on circular economy thinking will end up just closing the loop in on themselves, to protect their assets and their markets.
With Musk and the likes of Tesla, that is unlikely to happen. And that’s the difference. Musk is a new breed of CEO, he wants to do business better. For the greater good. His legacy is about safeguarding humanity, but not at the expense of a darker world. I reckon his lightbulb moments will glow brighter, and longer, for that.