Why Elon Musk May Be the World's Greatest Showman Since Steve Jobs
There are many reasons why Steve Jobs is considered one of the greatest product showmen of all time. The Apple co-founder had reached a sort of celebrity status by making some of the biggest, flashiest, and most memorable product introductions the world has ever seen.
There are many ways that Elon Musk and Steve Jobs are very similar. Both are or were visionary leaders, entrepreneurs, and CEOs. Both even lead or led two companies simultaneously: Jobs with Apple and Pixar, and Musk with Tesla Motors and SpaceX. But when it comes to Musk and Jobs and their showmanship, there is another shared ability that both men possess that does wonders for their stage presence.
It's that after they make a point about why their product is superior, in hindsight it becomes so obvious that it should have been common sense in the first place. How did no one think of that before?
The iPhone is betterThink of what many consider Jobs' best product introduction ever -- the iPhone at Macworld in January 2007. At the beginning of the keynote, Jobs surveys the then-current smartphone landscape by showing a few examples of popular phones. Why did the iPhone need a revolutionary user interface in the first place? What was wrong with the status quo?
Jobs pointing out the limitations of hardware keyboards and buttons. Image source: EverySteveJobsVideo YouTube channel.
Jobs called the problem "the bottom 40," noting that nearly half of the device was dedicated to hardware keyboards and buttons that are present at all times, regardless of what application you're using or what task you're performing. There was less opportunity to optimize the interface for specific purposes, and if you come up with a great idea later you can't go back and change the layout of the buttons. The now-obvious solution was a "giant" (by 2007 standards) capacitive touchscreen, which is now a ubiquitous feature of all modern smartphones.
How did no one think of that before?
The Model X is betterNow let's fast-forward eight years and think of Musk at the Model X launch event. Highlighting the electric SUV's safety features and its incredibly low probability of overall injury, Musk points to the architectural advantage that electric cars have. Specifically, gas-powered cars have a giant internal combustion engine that often penetrates the passenger cabin in a frontal collision. Musk added, "With the Model X, there is no such thing."
Musk showing the engine block on a standard SUV. Image source: Tesla.
Instead, the entire frontal area on Model X serves as a large crumple zone that absorbs the impact and dramatically reduces the odds of personal injury or death. Musk makes an analogy, saying the difference is like jumping off a building into a pool, compared to jumping off a building into a pool with a giant rock in it. Never before have I felt so self-conscious driving my own car, now cognizant of the giant explosion machine that's just a few feet away, waiting to potentially kill me should I get into a head-on collision.
How did no one think of that before?
DuhThese are just two examples, and there are plenty more of Musk and Jobs pointing out something that should have been obvious all along.
One way that Musk and Jobs are or were able to accomplish this was because they both possess complete and utter conviction that they are right. Combined with this confidence is the courage to challenge the status quo and actually do something about it. The iPhone would revolutionize the smartphone industry, and electric cars are inherently superior to gas-powered cars. This is precisely why people happily line up around the block to buy the newest iPhone each year, and why people have been lined up for years to buy a Model X.
Tesla started taking Model X reservations in February 2012, and consumers have been willing to endure years of delays. The upstart automaker now has over 30,000 Model X reservations, according to unofficial estimates.
All of this being said, market viability is an entirely different topic than offering a strong, compelling argument. Even though electric cars are better, achieving mainstream adoption won't be easy. There is still range anxiety. Charging infrastructure is inchoate. Model X is expensive.
It took many years of operational execution and technological innovation for the iPhone to become what it is today, and it will take even more years for electric cars to reach the mainstream. Tesla will also need to execute and innovate in order to address the hurdles to adoption in the years ahead, improving range, infrastructure, and pricing.
I'll leave you with another Musk quote that should have been painfully obvious a long, long time ago: "Gas is a weird thing to love."
The article Why Elon Musk May Be the World's Greatest Showman Since Steve Jobs originally appeared on Fool.com.
Evan Niu, CFA owns shares of Apple and Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple and Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
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