Is Elon Musk a troll? Serious question. He spends a lot of time on Twitter apparently trying to stir things up. Except, unlike most trolls, his tweets come back to bite him.

And now he's at it again--even after causing the Securities and Exchange Commission to seek a contempt of court ruling from a judge. Just the other day he tweeted about production goals, leaving an impression that was incorrect when he and Tesla were already under a consent agreement to make sure Musk's tweets were monitored so far as company news went.

This time he's teasing a coming tweet tomorrow. Here it is:

It's supposed to be Tesla news. Maybe the advance warning is to get interest up and to leave enough time for someone to vet what he's about to write.

But that's beside the point now. My late friend Richard Isaacs had a saying that was really a verbal codification of a natural law that he thought explained pretty much everything about human behavior. It was, "People are idiots."

He didn't mean that everyone was an idiot all the time--although there's plenty of evidence a good number are trying to stake out that position. And he didn't mean that he or anyone else was above being an idiot. On the contrary, he meant that everyone at different times acted like an idiot.

Given the law of large numbers, that means there's likely a massive amount of idiocy in play at any given time and place. People don't do what they should or do what they shouldn't.

It's not for me to say whether Musk's continued Twitter posts put him into the idiot class at the time he wrote them. But it sure seems foolhardy. That's something a CEO, particularly of a public company, should not give into.

It's similar to acting like a grownup in so much of life. You do things that may not seem fun because if you don't, no one else will and you'll pay the price for the oversight. Pay your bills, mow the lawn, work hard, remember to be human and decent toward family and friends. And, in particular, don't court trouble for no reason.

That doesn't mean you should be a pushover or always keep quiet and polite. There are times you may have to shake things up and cause trouble for a more important principle or cause. But when there's no good reason behind it, raising a ruckus is at the very least a waste of time so you can indulge yourself in something petty and unproductive. At worst, it can land you into a pile of muck that takes forever to clean off.

Anyone experienced who is trying to honestly advise Musk has got to be telling him that silence would be golden about now. Either Musk thinks he's above it all, that he knows better, or that he really wants out of the stress of being a CEO of a public company so he can have fun starting new businesses.

That last part is far from embarrassing. Musk is willing to work hard to take risks and he often wants to achieve something grander than just pulling in another buck. Good for him. We need more people who can do that. And that is one very particular and admirable set of skills.

It's not what you need from someone who has to direct a company through the maze of demands from markets, regulators, employees, business partners, and customers. Entrepreneurs are often not the best at such tasks. In that case, hire on a CEO and COO and let them take the company to the next level--while you go off and do what you're best at and enjoy most.

Published on: Feb 27, 2019
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