Tesla Model 3: Elon Musk vs “It’s never been done before”
As we get closer to the final unveiling of the Tesla Model 3 (it’s on Friday), I’ve been in a more reflective mood than normal — reflecting on the transition to electric vehicles, reflecting on the actual likelihood of stopping runaway global warming, reflecting on what I’m doing with my life and if I should change course or adjust my daily habits in any way (of course I should).
It’s a common argument — whether worded so directly or not. It’s a reason used to not start a business, to not advocate for better government policies, to not launch a new product. This simple argument stifles many an effort to make the world better.
Of course, there are also people who are tempted, incentivized, and motivated by that phrase. There are certain people who hear “it’s never been done before” and get an extra dose of adrenalin boosting through their body.
“It’s never been done before” is an invitation for failure. The underlying assumption is that you’re nearly guaranteed to fail when you try to do something that has escaped every other human, company, and organization.
There’s a good chance a certain dude has already come into your thoughts while reading the lines above. As I think we all know quite well, Elon Musk is one of those people who gets an extra pound-foot of torque when someone mentions that a certain goal or possibility has never been achieved. Heck, one of the missions of the man’s life is apparently to bring humanity to Mars.
I think the idea for this story came out of some comment thread here on CleanTechnicawhere a commenter’s underlying argument was essentially, “it’s never been done before.” That triggered the sleeping sociologist or philosopher in me … for better or worse.
It’s a very bad argument against Tesla and against Elon Musk for a couple of reasons:
1. Tesla and Elon have done a bunch of things that have never been done before.
2. “It’s never been done before” clearly ≠ it’s impossible. “It’s never been done before” doesn’t even = it’s not likely.
Another point that many people seem to routinely miss is that those people who frequently challenge “it’s never been done before” complacency tend to receive more rewards (in various ways) in this ever-evolving world.
If a company is keen to tackle “it’s never been done before” challenges, and it does so in a way that is based on rationality and first principles thinking, that company is actually poised to grow beyond many normal humans’ expectations.
It is hard for an “average Joe” to contemplate the future of a person or company obsessed with destroying “it’s never been done before” arguments.
As I wrote when the Gigafactory unveiling was dominating the news cycle, all of the physical milestones of the Gigafactory were not the big deal. The big deal was the human vision, enthusiasm, dedication, focus, and imagination that led to the Gigafactory. Elon Musk’s dreams. JB Straubel’s dreams. Steve Jurvetson’s dreams. Maye Musk’s dreams. The dreams of countless engineers, accountants, salespeople, and customers. These people’s dreams led to the Gigafactory, and that’s what’s so powerful and important.
Similarly, the Tesla Model 3 is not the landmark automobile of the 21st century due to just a few key specs. Honestly, it would have been possible for a car with the same specs to come out and be a commercial dud.
The Tesla Model 3 is the landmark vehicle it is because of the hundreds of thousands of people — or millions of people — who had a vision for a cleaner world, a better world, a safer world, and a torquier world. It is again from the human vision, enthusiasm, dedication, focus, and imagination of Elon, of other technical leaders at Tesla, of innumerable people who paved the way for them, and of the all-too-easily-forgotten consumers who decided to vote for a better world with their dollars, euros, rupees, pounds, and złoty.
The Model 3 is an amazing landmark not because of some dry technological points, but because of what it signifies about humans, about humanity, and about the wonders of life.