Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Do Something Impossible, Then Do it Better

There are two kinds of people who are really into cars: those who want power and performance, and those who are really excited about practical things like fuel economy.

I am in the second category. I really have no use for a car with over 200 or so horsepower. I have absolutely no use for a car with less than 20 MPG. This is why both my cars are 40+ MPG Volkswagen Diesels, and this is why I think that Tesla Motors is the most interesting car company to exist in my lifetime.

Tesla is in the news this morning because New Jersey officials have announced changes in regulations to make sure that the existing dealer infrastructure, who has donated large sums of money to officials, gets to keep taking their cut out of the car market at the expense of an innovative company that wants to sell directly to consumers, cutting out the middle man. Of course, if you have been to a car dealership ever, you can likely imagine why Tesla does not want to allow the average car salesman to try to explain the new concept of the Tesla to customers.

But I'm not here to comment on politics, much as I enjoy doing so. My point in writing about Tesla is that Elan Musk makes a habit of doing the impossible. After making his fortune with Ebay, he started three companies. One makes electric cars with a range similar to a gas car and a battery that can be charged in half an hour, which can drive from New York to L.A. without ever being out of range of a charging station, AND the company is profitable. The second is a commercial space travel company. The third is a more mundane solar energy company called Solar City.

In The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Series, there is a place called Milliways, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Their slogan is "If you've done three impossible things this morning, why not top it off with breakfast at Milliways." Mr. Musk must have a frequent diner's card there.

Remember the future that authors like Heinlein, Clark, and Asimov described? Elan Musk lives there and is wondering when we're going to be joining him.

So, what is it that allows him to push the limits of technology and make money at the same time? Not just once but multiple times. Of course, I can't be sure, but from what I have heard him say in talks and read in his writings, I would conclude it's because he doesn't believe in impossible. He seems to have suffered some kind of brain damage that deactivated the part of the brain that says "that can't be done."

I have no doubt that he will prevail in New Jersey in the long run. He cannot imagine any other outcome, and when the leader cannot envision failure, those who follow cannot either.

How much easier is something to do if you know it can be done? When you get furniture home that you need to assemble, and you discover that the instructions are in Japanese, you don't give up. You give it a shot and figure it out. Why? Because you know that it was built to be assembled, and clearly it can be done. Even if you don't have the instructions, you're sure you can figure it out.

It's like you've read the last page of the novel and you know that the characters come out victorious. Reading the book is just to find out how they did it. What if you could read the last page of the novel of your life and know that you will be victorious? If you knew for a fact that you would succeed, you would certainly never give up. Why should you? You know you'll win in the end.

Why not live your life as if you had read the last page and knew you could not fail. Maybe you won't revolutionize transportation as we know it, or maybe you will.

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