When people think of Elon Musk, they may not think of him as a brilliant mathematician. They should. All his major accomplishments spring from a deep understanding and practical grasp of mathematics and engineering.
Anyone who has driven a Tesla understands what a quality vehicle it is. With these cars, it is not just the design and concept, it is the software—better to call these cars laptops with wheels. Watching SpaceX Falcon 9 boosters land on a spec in the ocean precisely from nearly 140 km in space, over and over again is, once more, a testimony to a deep fusion of superior math and equally superior software.
Both these brands are built on top of another brand, that of Elon Musk himself. Make no mistake, he is a brand unto himself. His use of Twitter to forward his brand has been legendary. A few years ago a well-known actor/producer who is also a Tesla owner produced a great TV ad for Tesla. It was presented to Elon, who loved it. He then wrote a check for the work, asked for and received the master files and shelved it, saying he would never use advertising for his cars. Indeed he has not, he’s mainly just sent out various posts on Twitter.
And the news media over the years has eaten this up, using Musk’s name as much as possible—let’s face it, his name has been full-on click bait for many years. Pretty much any article at all about Elon is guaranteed to boost ad revenues, no matter what the content.
How to Shatter a Brand
Taking a look at Elon’s premiere brand, Tesla, we see the darling of progressives. What’s not to love about a company that is profitable from selling only electric cars, solar panels and battery packs. The entire auto industry has been upended by the bets Musk placed with this enterprise, making for the moment the richest man in the world.
But all is not well in the Tesla universe since Elon placed the most nonsensical bet of his career in buying Twitter. Tesla stock (TSLA) has been down-trending for months now, losing almost half its value since September 20th.
Shareholder lawsuits are now in play against Elon personally because of this. It is fairly obvious that he has all but abandoned his fiduciary duty as a member and chairman of Tesla’s board.
“Board of directors’ fiduciary duty refers to the highest standard of care. Board members and officers are fiduciaries, and by statutory and common law mandate, they must act with the utmost responsibility.
“The term fiduciary refers to a person who has unique responsibilities related to monitoring, distribution, administration, and/or investment of property, such as public or charitable assets of the business, in addition to intangible assets, like the company’s reputation and its role within the community.”
Elon is riding off on his hobby horse of “absolute” free speech and this is where his vaunted ability as a mathematician comes crashing down. The various types of calculations involved in brilliant engineering for material endeavors simply don’t work at all when applied to human emotion and reaction.
Humans, in case anyone hasn’t noticed, have issues. Sometimes they are brave and caring and other times they are cruel, inhuman, and simply take on the persona of a schoolyard bully—and this can be the same person. What is impossible to calculate is the potential for each and every one of us to display and act on the heights of brilliance and depths of depravity and every step in between.
Luckily for us the people who operate exclusively at the lower rungs of humanity are a small percentage of the population. But their ability to hide in plain sight, to misdirect our attention, to blame others for their actions—and a host of other tricks—sometimes makes them hard to spot.
And here we have Elon giving some of these folks—destructive, treasonous, antisemitics, white supremacists (Nazis), rumor mongers, scammers and insurrectionists—voice. To call this a huge mistake is an understatement of magnitude.
The problem Musk is creating for himself is even bigger and brings us back to simple ledger arithmetic. He had to borrow quite a chunk of change—and some of it from a covert enemy of our country, Saudi Arabia—to buy Twitter. Easy for him to do with the massive value of his Tesla stock.
But now, Tesla’s stock is tanking. The brand that made his personal brand is suffering. And Twitter is losing money in bucket loads despite massive layoffs of the people who actually know how to run it. Competitors to the platform are popping up with abandon, even one from Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s founder.
In essence, it appears that Elon Musk has steered his Twitter hobby horse straight toward the cliff. And he is not recognizing the dangers he’s created for himself and his other companies.
Musk’s history shows that he has an ability to stay a course in the face of crushing odds—an admirable quality. SpaceX was one launch failure from demise. Had that last Falcon 1 launch not been successful in 2008, the now-normal spectacle of watching boosters land on drone ships would still be a pipe dream. SpaceX would have shut down the next day. There was also a time in the early days of Tesla that he had to borrow money for rent.
Musk is now heading for a different kind of cliff and it involves a very different kind of brinksmanship. Who knows what he really has in mind for where he’s trying to drive Twitter, but the reality appears to be more and more like the train scene in one of the Back to the Future films.
Twitter’s value to people who use it lessens every day that he plays with the idiocy of “absolute” free speech. That could prove to be his greatest miscalculation. And he’s shooting his other brands—and his own—in the foot while he’s at it.
Marty Kassowitz is co-founder of Factkeepers. As founder of Interest Factory and View360, he brings more than 30 years experience in effective online communications, social media management, and platform development to the site. He is a writer, designer, editor and long time observer of the ill-logic demonstrated by too many members of the species known as Mankind. After a long history of somewhat private commentary on a subject he totally hates: politics, Marty was encouraged to build this site and put up his own analyses as well as curate relevant content from other sources.