Friday, August 17, 2018

The thrall of strong personalities

The image being drawn is of a man on the edge of a digital nervous breakdown, and the theory is that the once unstoppable Mr. Musk is now untethered and unhinged. So let me answer that question: Is he crazy? 
No, he’s not. Not, at least, in my various encounters with him over nearly two decades — including recently — in which he has been alternately funny, rude, compelling, obnoxious, accessible, easy to deal with, hard to deal with, always on, outspoken to a fault even when he might be at fault, angry, charming, intense and also strikingly confident. Which is a long way of saying deeply human, with all the positive and negative characteristics that suggests...
...This week I have talked to a lot of people who know Mr. Musk, including those who adore him and those who have had it with his brusque intensity. And what I found among his current and former colleagues is that they really have the exact same story about an impulsive and driven boss who runs a very hot and messy kitchen and does not spend a lot of time apologizing for it. Some grew weary of this and left, while others thrive under the withering lights. Still others left and then came back, drawn in by the glow.
It's this phrase of "a very hot and messy kitchen" that I find most compelling in her column. I've worked for such people as these, and the thrall of being able to do big things can be really exciting, even as one does grow weary of both the heat and the messiness. You think to yourself, "Does the crazy train really need to be this crazy?"

(There often seem to be a lot of PIs whose labs seem to run 'hot and messy' - I wonder how their cooler and neater colleagues see them?)


  1. Leaders like Musk succeed despite their unpleasant rude abusive persona, not because of it. You may get things moving faster by disposing with the niceties, but at what long-term cost? Also, if you don't try to win approval of people you lead, and instead bully them into submission, you get decoupled from their insight and ideas. Quite often there is a reason when your technical people come to you and argue it cannot be done the way you want, with the available time and resources.

    One thing that really bothered me working at process scale were bosses who intentionally avoided input from their chemists before making promises to a customer or top management - and making themselves look good while setting up their own people for failure. I had a nasty boss like this, she is a big shot at Genentech now, so sucking up and pushing down apparently worked for her.

  2. Seems that everyone at the intersection of Silicon Valley and high finance is a polytoxicomaniac...

  3. It's a good question that you often ask about people who work for bosses like Elon Musk or Steve Jobs: Why would you work for such unpleasant bullies? In fact you might ask the same question of people who work for certain big shot synthetic chemists. Do you willingly accept the abuse because you think you have a once in a lifetime opportunity to do something groundbreaking? Do you just do it because the gig will look great on your resume? I think both reasons often play a role.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20