Opinion: Is Tesla CEO Elon Musk Addicted to the Limelight?

Tesla CEO Elon Musk

A traditional CEO would die rather than be caught smoking marijuana, saying politically incorrect things, putting his company’s stock at risk or doing any of a number of things that seem to come naturally to Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Is he addicted to the limelight?

We’re not experts, and we don’t have a couch. That’s our disclaimer. But what we do have is a series of incidents arising from willful actions that have kept the most controversial entrepreneur of this millennium (we’re only 18 years in) constantly in the media’s eye.

Let’s travel down memory lane to see some of the things Musk has done in the past – in no particular order:

Allegedly smoked marijuana on a live YouTube broadcast.

Called a rescue diver a “pedo” – and then sent another shot across the bow with emails claiming that the diver took a “child bride” in Thailand.

Sold 20,000 (not) flamethrowers through his Boring Company based on an idea from the movie Spaceballs.

Told everyone he had “funding secured” to take Tesla private, causing nearly a month of angst for analysts and investors alike.

Is losing executives like flies over the past several months, including his newly hired head of accounting, Dave Morton, who helped take Dell private and was expected to negotiate Tesla through a similar minefield.

Has targeted Mars as the next real estate possibility for human beings.

Dug a hole to prove a point.

We could go on, but suffice it to say that Musk has done things that no other CEO looking to keep his or her job has ever been likely to do in the past – or might in the future. And that’s because Musk doesn’t think of himself as a businessman. He thinks of himself as 80% engineer.

But the amazing thing is that the pieces just seem to fall around him to complete the puzzle. No one can deny that he’s already upended the automotive segment with this single-minded vision for sustainable transportation. The Model 3 is probably the very first example of that vision blistering through a century old industry and forcing it to spend as much as $90 billion on their own electrification plans.

And he’s already cracked the reusable rocket code that will go a long way in making space travel a lot more affordable. He’s almost proved that digging a hole in the ground can mean so much more than a hole in the ground.

If you take a balanced view of things, Musk is just an ordinary person with an extraordinary drive. That drive sometimes leads him to do things that attract media attention, but his addiction is not the limelight. His addiction is to put his thousands of ideas into play and watch them grow into massive trees the way Tesla has grown over the last 15 years.

In fact, it’s an obsession more than an addiction, and that obsession is to set a goal and go after it no matter what. Isn’t that what all the success literature of the past 100 years tells us to do in order to “succeed”? And when someone finally does it (albeit in the extreme), we point fingers and jeer at his every failure.

But remember one thing. One success after a thousand failures is enough to change the world. Ever heard of Edison? So, while the failures, fumbles and foibles of Elon Musk are often quadruple-underlined by the media, it’s a rare article, post or video that talks about what he’s really succeeding at.