By Edwina Ross
“The scientists of today think deeply instead of clearly. One must be sane to think clearly, but one can think deeply and be quite insane.” These are the words of Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943) physicist, engineer and inventor.
Elon Musk, another scientist, engineer and inventor, may have recently set up his desk at the end of the Model X production line at the Tesla Motor factory in California (with his sleeping bag not too far away), but I don’t believe for a minute that he is insane. Absolute clarity of thought and passion, driven by a belief in the product, is a much more likely scenario.
And his dedication is not misguided. The company's first electric sedan, Model S, won the 2013 Car of the Year by Motor Trend magazine – it was capable of covering 265 miles or 426 kms between charges. It has more recently been refreshed and now Model X and Model 3 are hot on its (w)heels.
The company is, however, facing a hurdle - the sort of hurdle, I must just add, that every company would like to have to leap. To fill their enormous number of orders in a timely fashion is proving challenging, but then the orders are around the 400,000 mark. Even with the highly automated Tesla Factory’s 5.3 million square feet (325160.00 square meters) of manufacturing and office space this would take some doing.
A sign of the changes in the automotive industry (a change that is seeping into many others too), saw Musk, in January of this year, on a mission to recruit 1600 software engineers for his factory. They are to help develop the cars’ autopilot system with capabilities that would allow Tesla owners to summon their cars.
Their employment is part of a thrust by the company to have a fully self-driving car by 2018. (If I remember correctly this was a part of a slightly daunting, but tantalising discussion on the 2016 EIT Roadshow?) Clearly there will be avid observers of developments here.
Naming the all electric motor company after Nikola Tesla is a worthy posthumous badge of honour for the creator of the induction motor and alternating current (AC) power transmission.
According to an old post on the automaker’s website, the founders wrote, “Without Tesla’s vision and brilliance, our car wouldn’t be possible. We’re confident that if he were alive today, Nikola Tesla would look over our 100 per cent electric car and nod his head with both understanding and approval.”
Unsurprisingly Tesla and Musk have similar views on risk and innovation; accounting for their very individual, but fearless drive and determination. In Musk’s words, "Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough." And then as Tesla is recorded as saying, “Our virtues and our failings are inseparable, like force and matter. When they separate, man is no more.”
There is a less than a subtle difference here though: Musk embraces failure to further and strengthen his ideas, whereas Tesla was referring to the essence of his nature.
Tesla’s clarity of thought was almost certainly combined with that depth of thought which he associated with insanity and which he warned against. His ‘virtues’ were his ingenuity, imagination and inventiveness. But his ‘failings’ involved an unhealthy preoccupation with his ideas, an obsessive scrutiny which ultimately led to his downfall and in his later years, a life lived in obscurity and relative poverty.
It does suggest that the genius inherent in inventors needs nurturing. Perhaps by those who can harness the creativity and bring a big dose of commercial wisdom to it. The problem of course is that those with this capability may also contain the greed that often drives commercial success and which could result in the exploitation of the creator. Nikola Tesla used numerous patents to help defend himself against unscrupulous people and behaviour, but without success.
Elon Musk, on the other hand, has both the inventor’s flair and the requisite commercial talent. But this man, who appears to have it all, has added good old fashioned hard work to the mix to ensure his star is in the ascendant.
Thanks to the following for their assistance in writing this: