In last month's "Brave Thinkers" issue, I had a brief Q-and-A with Elon Musk, founder of (among other enterprises) Space Exploration, or SpaceX. Today, of course, SpaceX had an apparently near-flawless flight of its Falcon 9 spacecraft, from liftoff at Cape Canaveral to splashdown in the Pacific three-plus hours later. This is an important step in commercial, low-cost space flight -- and well done to all involved.
The version of the Q-and-A we ran in the magazine was necessarily shortened. After the jump, a passage that was condensed in the magazine version, on the endlessly absorbing question of whether the U.S. has rebound ability despite all its current woes. Congrats!
From my interview with Elon Musk for our November issue:
>>Americans like to celebrate our culture as unusually "innovative" and to think that we have a long-term advantage in this regard over other societies, including China. Is that belief justified?
I think it is. Which is not to suggest complacency. We need to be vigilant that we have the right environment -- and that we are attracting the best people from around the world. The situation with immigration is like having a sports team, and there is some fantastic player on the other team. Do you want them playing on your team, or the other team? We should be in active recruitment mode.
As long as we don't create a stifling environment, at least relative to other countries, and as long as we are encouraging enterprising people to come in, we don't have to worry about remaining innovative.
As you think about your own career as entrepreneur, and about your colleagues in the tech industry, do you believe that innovators are "born" or "made"? Do you take risks because it's your basic outlook, or because of experiences and instruction?
I think it is some combination of the two. If I had been born in some cave, I suppose I would still try to be innovative, but there would be limits. You have to have the environment that encourages innovation as well. Let's say I had been constrained to live in South Africa, where I was born. I would not have been able to achieve a fraction of what I have.
The environment in the US is supportive of big ideas and striving to better yourself. In a lot of countries, to attempt to exceed your surroundings is frowned on. In France, polls always show that to have inherited your money is considered more admirable than to have earned it. That is terrible! In the United States, earning it is celebrated, which is better.<<
A reader in France, as it turns out, has written in to ask for details about the polls that reveal his country's antipathy toward entrepreneurs. We'll look into it. However that turns out, the message is worthy.