An investigative piece about Elon Musk’s travails with Gigafactory and Model 3 by Charles Duhigg, the Pullitzer prize winner and author of The Power of Habit. Charles brings out the other side of genius in this piece in the WIRED. It is full of anecdotes, sometimes hilarious but often times grave enough to know that beautiful minds come with an immense inherent ability to self-destruct.
““The overarching purpose of Tesla Motors (and the reason I am funding the company) is to help expedite the move from a mine-and-burn hydrocarbon economy toward a solar electric economy,” Musk wrote in a 2006 document he called “The Secret Tesla Motors Master Plan.” “We will not stop until every car on the road is electric,” he said at one point. It was a lesson in his approach to life. “Optimism, pessimism, fuck that,” he once told WIRED about his other company, SpaceX. “We’re going to make it happen. As God is my bloody witness, I’m hell-bent on making it work.”
Silicon Valley was built on such audaciousness. Musk’s story, in particular, has been embraced as proof that believing in the impossible can sometimes make it real.”
“Musk’s odd behavior isn’t unique or even extreme in the annals of inventors. Howard Hughes lived like a hermit in hotels, watching movies in the nude and refusing to cut his fingernails. Nikola Tesla, who pioneered alternating current electricity delivery—and who is honored in the name of Musk’s company—died destitute, convinced he had invented a motor that could run on “cosmic rays” and obsessed with caring for sick pigeons. (He is reputed to have said of one, “I loved that pigeon as a man loves a woman, and she loved me.”)
There’s a sense of tragedy in such stories because these men seemed, at one point, to rise above the masses and suggest that genius is possible. Silicon Valley in particular reveres these kind of heroes—and the more willful and ornery they are, the better. Technologists are often called upon to do things that seem impossible, and so they celebrate when doubters are proven wrong—when dismissal of an idea becomes evidence of its visionary reach. The idea of the odd genius is afforded a special status within technology. People lionize inventors who listen to their intuition and ignore naysayers, who hold themselves and everyone else to a standard of perfection, regardless of what it costs those around them. Steve Jobs is gone; now we have Elon Musk.”
“On July 1—more than two years after opening reservations for the Model 3—Musk finally sent the jubilant email many employees had been waiting for. “I think we just became a real car company,” he wrote. Tesla had manufactured 5,031 Model 3 vehicles during a seven-day period. They had hit their goal, six months late, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars and dozens of executive departures. “What an incredible job by an amazing team,” Musk wrote. “Couldn’t be more proud to work with you.”
Employees inside the company also thought it was amazing, though some cite different reasons.
“For me, the fact that we were able to build at scale, amid all that craziness, that’s the real accomplishment,” one former engineering executive told me. “Just think about it: We designed a car that is so simple and elegant you can build it in a tent. You can build it when your CEO is melting down. You can build it when everyone is quitting or getting fired. That’s a real accomplishment. That’s amazing.”
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