Elon Musk today waded into the Ukraine-Russia war with a peace plan that didn’t go over well. That may have been a tactic to distract industry watchers from Tesla’s third-quarter 2022 vehicle production and delivery numbers, which fell short of analysts’ expectations. But it was a foolish tactic if it was, and one of a growing series of missteps that must have many in Musk’s sphere wondering what to do next.
The most immediate issue was a four-part proposal Musk tweeted to his 107 million followers on the platform, one that involved acknowledging Russia’s claims to the Crimean Peninsula – which Russia has illegally annexed to Ukraine in 2014 – and a commitment by Ukraine to remain neutral and not join NATO. (Ukraine applied for accelerated NATO membership late last week.)
Musk also suggested re-doing the sham referendums on Russia’s annexation of occupied Ukrainian territories held last month by Russian-installed officials in Ukraine (he proposed letting ‘the people’ decide) ; and ensuring Crimea’s access to water. (Ukraine had built a dam to cut off Crimea’s primary water supply in retaliation for Russia’s capture of the Crimean peninsula eight years ago; that dam burst in February, two days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.)
Musk included a poll in that proposal, asking whether or not people agreed with his peace plan.
Reader, they didn’t. Citing the “Russian vibe,” supporters accused Musk of fundamentally misunderstanding what’s at stake in the war and pushing Russian propaganda.
Ukrainian diplomat Andrij Melnyk summed up the general feeling when he tweeted to Musk, “Fuck off is my very diplomatic response to you @elonmusk.”
Even Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy weighed in, releasing his own poll, asking his far fewer 6.6 million followers which @elonmusk they like more, which one is pro-Ukraine or which one is pro-Russia.
Who @Elon Musk do you like more?
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) October 3, 2022
In the blink of an eye, Musk lost much of the goodwill he generated in the spring by sending SpaceX’s Starlink terminals to Ukraine to bolster internet access in the country. (Starlink appears to have been paid for this by the US government.)
In the meantime, Musk’s employees and the company’s shareholders must shake their heads because, once again, Musk is casually diving into a thorny issue beyond his expertise. (It was obvious from the time Musk announced his intention to buy Twitter in late April that he didn’t have a very good understanding of the various challenges the company was facing or a real game plan to address them. remedy.)
Musk is gleaming about a lot of things, including his use of Twitter, which keeps him in the headlines, despite the fact that Tesla has long since done away with any kind of traditional PR function.
He may have good intentions. (It’s not always clear.) Still, he undermines himself when he talks on Twitter about things he’s not an authority on.
Some argue that it doesn’t matter; it has no impact on sales; Tesla owners who disapprove of Musk still love their cars. But one day, in the not-too-distant future, without a shortage of companies nipping at Tesla’s heels and a growing pile of reasons people look at cars from other manufacturers, that might change.
We’d be surprised if recruiting efforts aren’t already impacted by some of the headlines Musk has generated this year. While engineers may have rushed to work for Tesla or SpaceX in the past because of its visionary leader, Musk’s various statements probably make it more sobering. (Is this guy serious? Is he sane? Does he have any self-control?)
It can’t help that Musk, whose management style has been described as ruthless, showed no concern for the engineering talent inside Twitter, treating the company like a bauble he wanted, then ransacking it shamelessly.
Becoming a business icon has been very good for business, and Musk’s addiction to fame has helped fuel his rise to the top of the business world, but there’s always a tipping point. However, what goes up must eventually come down, and by unnecessarily alienating large swaths of people – in Ukraine, inside Twitter, within its own customer and employee bases and beyond – it is sure to accelerate. this process.
For his own reasons, maybe it’s up to him. Otherwise, Musk could learn a lesson from Tesla’s well-meaning self-driving software, if it’s flawed, and stay in his lane.
As the Kyiv Post newspaper account tweeted earlier today, referring to Musk’s native South Africa: “Elon you are a cool guy and thanks for the Starlink but it would be so wonderful if you were to vote on things you know. We are not voting on apartheid and Nelson Mandela.