21 June 2018

Mobile Opportunity: “Here Comes the Hammer: The Tech Industry’s Three Crises”

The challenge to tech is especially daunting because the industry doesn’t actually have just one problem, it has three: a PR problem, a legal problem, and a political problem. They’re all coming to a head at once, and they all interact to reinforce each other. I'm going to write a few posts exploring the problems, what caused them, and what we can do about them.

There are so many examples of this that they could fill a book. But here are three recent incidents:

1. Elon Musk’s decision to sell flamethrowers. What in the name of God is he thinking? Democracy is in trouble, nukes are proliferating, there’s Ebola in Africa -- and Elon and his buddies play with fire guns. If you want to convince people that you’re an unstable man-child unworthy to plan the future, I can think of no better way to do it. Elon’s poor judgment and lack of self-control is especially troubling because he’s running businesses that rely on public trust: trust me not to kill you with my car, trust me not to blow up your astronauts, trust that my tunnels under Los Angeles won’t collapse in an earthquake, etc.

Michael Mace

Not that other tech giants don’t have their own image problems, but Elon Musk’s behavior is increasingly bizarre – I would even venture to call it paranoid. He treats the slightest criticism in media as a personal affront and pushes back hard, accusing journalists of bias, of faking stories for traffic – kind of like Donald Trump. Just this week Tesla sued a former employee, accusing him of stealing massive amounts of confidential data and of sabotage. In an email to staff, Musk basically blames the alleged sabotage on Tesla’s ‘many enemies’, a tactic often applied by dictators to gain popular support against imagined threats. A classic paranoid thinking, always passing blame onto others, never looking inward for the real causes.

As you know, there are a long list of organizations that want Tesla to die. These include Wall Street short-sellers, who have already lost billions of dollars and stand to lose a lot more. Then there are the oil & gas companies, the wealthiest industry in the world — they don’t love the idea of Tesla advancing the progress of solar power & electric cars. Don’t want to blow your mind, but rumor has it that those companies are sometimes not super nice. Then there are the multitude of big gas/diesel car company competitors. If they’re willing to cheat so much about emissions, maybe they’re willing to cheat in other ways?

Elon Musk

Coincidentally, last week we saw Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes charged with criminal fraud, and it reminded me of how she dealt with criticism and disclosures of internal issues by the press: by denying everything until the bitter end and blaming journalists for the ‘bad press’. Does this sound familiar? The more Elon Musk rallies against critics, the more one has to wonder: what does he have to hide? I am reasonably sure it’s nowhere near the level of malicious wrongdoing uncovered at Theranos, but still, it doesn’t bode well for Tesla’s future.

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