I learned something today about Tesla CEO Elon Musk. And, chances are, by now you've learned it too.

Musk, a billionaire and one of the most innovative minds of our times, is a really, really bad dancer. But if we put a dollar figure to his dance moves, he just might be one of the most impressive dancers we've ever seen.

Allow me to explain.

On Tuesday morning, I woke up to an onslaught of articles around the internet showing Musk dancing onstage at an event he held in China. While he danced, he took off his jacket, as if he were stripping onstage. In a tweet, Musk jokingly called the clip of him stripping off his jacket "NSFW," or not safe for work.

Before long, the clip went viral. Head over to your social network of choice and you'll find plenty of memes featuring Musk's dance moves.

Meanwhile, headlines blared. Publications from around the internet pointed to his dancing first, followed by discussion of what Tesla will be doing in China second. 

In just a few seconds onstage, Musk managed to do something for free that so many other companies try desperately to do with millions in advertising: get the world's attention.

Whether he knew it or not (I'm guessing he did), Musk was able to take a few seconds of lousy dancing and turn it into millions of dollars in brand notoriety for his company. He was also able to steal some of the headlines from CES and some of his top competitors, like Toyota and others trying to make a mark in Las Vegas right now.

The move highlighted a core component (and perhaps risk factor) in Tesla's business. With Musk at the helm, Tesla doesn't need to spend boatloads of cash on advertising. Musk is a lightning rod of controversy, a veritable treasure trove of headlines, and an intriguing figure.

Why pay for advertising when you can get all of that attention (and then some) for free by asking Musk to do some dance moves in China?

It's a decidedly different experience for most other automakers. They spend huge sums of money each year to get your attention. Sometimes, they're successful. And sometimes they're not.

It's a rare day when Musk isn't getting attention.

But no discussion of Musk's dance moves is complete without acknowledging the risk that goes along with his brand appeal. In a future world where Musk is no longer with us, who can replace him as chief hype man for his companies?

With a single move, Musk can captivate people around the world, but with a single departure, he can fundamentally change the kind of attention people pay to Tesla.

It's a unique situation Tesla and Musk find themselves in. And what that means over the long haul remains to be seen. 

But, for now, while Musk is still young and healthy, he should keep on dancing. The world apparently wants to see it.

Published on: Jan 7, 2020
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.