Elon Musk does not have impostor syndrome

Fresh Air did an entertaining and informative discussion of Elon Musk’s bull in a china shop approach to Twitter yesterday with tech journalist Casey Newton.

Terry Gross: SpaceX and Tesla have been considered such big success stories, and credit has gone to Elon Musk. Twitter is showing a different side of him – indecisive, making decisions then retracting them. Twitter is losing money and advertisers under his leadership. He’s making decisions that are driving away Twitter users. Are you surprised by what kind of leader he’s turned out to be as the owner of Twitter?

Newton: You know, I really am. I had not paid a lot of attention to what Musk was doing at Tesla and SpaceX, but as you note, he was having a lot of success with those companies. And the Twitter that he inherited, while it had its challenges, was not a company in crisis. It made about $5 billion last year, has hundreds of millions of active users. And while it clearly needed to evolve, there was sort of no pressing need to blow it up and start over. And yet from the moment that he stepped into that job, that seems to be exactly what he decided to do.

He has now eliminated close to three-quarters of the staff. He has implemented a bunch of ideas and then quickly reversed himself. And more than anything else, I think he’s given the impression that rather than operating according to some set plan, he’s really managing Twitter more by whims and what seems to him to be a good idea in the moment. And so that’s led to a lot of chaos.

Chaos is good, chaos is creative, yadda yadda. Let’s blow up some hospitals and start over.

GROSS: One of Musk’s strategies that seems to have backfired is dealing with verification. Can you describe what verification is and what Twitter’s policy had been before Musk took over?

NEWTON: Yeah. So Twitter started a verification policy in 2009, and the basic idea was that it needed a way to verify that the owner of an account was who they said it was. So if you were a politician, a journalist or a celebrity, if you were really that person, Twitter would verify that, and then you would get this little blue check mark on your profile. That’s how it had always worked. Musk came along and said he wanted verification to be open to a much wider number of people, which, by the way, I thought was a pretty good idea. I think there are a lot of good reasons why you might want people to be able to optionally verify their identity on Twitter. It can just sort of be good for the service overall.

But he made one really bad decision, which was that not only did he offer everyone a verification badge, it was no longer actually connected to any sort of idea of verification. All you needed to do was pay $8. You could create any account; you would get that little badge. And so people started to pretend to be brands. They started to be celebrities. They started to pretend to be Elon Musk. And that same blue verification badge that had only ever meant you are who you say you are all of a sudden now meant I have $8.

I laughed as hard as Terry Gross did.

GROSS: So getting back to the idea that Musk is kind of blowing up Twitter to remake it his way, he’s losing so much money in the process. I mean, other ways that he’s losing money – ’cause you’ve pointed this out – is re-platforming people and making all these changes. They’re really expensive. It requires a lot of engineering changes in order to make these changes on Twitter. Plus, there’s no longer as many engineers there now. So it’s almost like he’s sabotaging himself in trying to remake Twitter.

NEWTON: Yeah, I think, you know, for some leaders, it’s not a good idea unless they came up with it, right? And so people who worked at Twitter had all sorts of ideas about how you could improve the service, make it more profitable. Elon has gotten rid of most of those people, and he’s fixated on a few core ideas that he thinks are going to be spectacular. Subscriptions is probably the biggest one although there are others. And he’s just going to go for it.

You know, this is probably one of the most self-confident people in the entire world, right? Elon Musk does not have impostor syndrome. He wakes up every day convinced that he is the only person who knows how to fix this company. And, you know, as me – for me, an observer, I just sort of sit back and think, like, none of this is working, you know? And so to me, the question is, will he ever acknowledge that other people have better ideas for this company than he does? Or will he just sort of continue to charge ahead with his own ideas, you know, regardless of if they’re successful or not?


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