27 May 2014

Why Elon Musk is No Steve Jobs

Recently there was an online article proclaiming Elon Musk as the current day version of Steve Jobs, with a quote from a former colleague of Musk going as far as saying Musk far exceeds Jobs's capabilities. There's also a popular Quora discussion on the topic.

I admire Elon Musk. He has achieved great things in admirable, go-for-broke situations while leading very cool companies: PayPal, SpaceX, SolarCity and Tesla. On his own, he deserves respect and attention. And given his age, he will likely innovate and impress for decades to come.

But Elon Musk is no Steve Jobs.

1. No product demo aura. Steve Jobs mastered the product demo announcement event format like no other. No one cares that it sounded scripted and rehearsed and was always full of hyperbole. It amazed and stunned audiences just often enough to make fanboys want more. Musk is obviously not known for his product demo skills.

2. No legion of bitter, discarded former colleagues. Steve Jobs was known for being a total dick with many colleagues, including some very talented people. Regardless of whether it was justified, we all know and secretly admire that Jobs often got his way by mercilessly disparaging and firing people.

3. No hero's journey monomyth life story of acid induced visions, early victories, temptation, downfall, banishment in the desert, atonement and triumphant second coming. Along the same lines, Steve Jobs even lived a buddy story with The Woz. Musk's life story is instead punctuated with two divorces, betting the farm on his companies, and taking big government loans.

4. No affiliation with adored products used by generations of children who are now grown adults. Musk has no parallel with the exposure and impact that the Apple IIe and original Mac had on kids and schools.

5. No iconic clothing. The black turtleneck and jeans were quirky, but a necessary ingredient in the recipe of the Steve Jobs legend.

6. No impact on the creative class. Artists, musicians, photographers, videographers, and so many others have had their crafts deeply affected by Apple technology over the decades. Perhaps there will be a day when many of us will drive Tesla cars or fly into orbit on SpaceX rockets, but as of today, despite the retro-Sci-Fi cool these companies represent, they have not yet revolutionized something as fundamental as the arts.

Only because others have already compared Elon Musk to Steve Jobs that it is fair to then measure him as such.

And it is clearly no comparison.

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