I just heard a great talk with Elon Musk, cofounder of PayPal and founder of Tesla Motors (a company that develops electric cars) and SpaceX (a company that develops technology for private and commercial space transport). In one part of the talk, he was asked why the U.S. auto companies have failed. He blamed poor management. He then asserted that these companies would have been better off if engineers, like him, managed the companies instead.


Musk is an incredibly smart guy and a man after my own heart, having studied physics. But he must have not studied enough philosophy, or he would have heard of Plato's idea of a philosopher king -- and why that idea was pretty ridiculous. Like Plato, Musk ignores that certain duties should be left to those who are functionally trained for those duties. For example, philosophers should stick to philosophy and those better versed in governing should stick to being rulers. Similarly, engineers should stick to designing stuff and let those who understand management manage.

I understand where Musk is coming from. Engineers understand their products better than arbitrary businessmen with MBAs might. But, unless they've also got MBAs, those same engineers probably don't understand the other intricacies involved in the day-to-day of managing a company.

Don't get me wrong: I think Musk is correct in saying that GM and Chrysler probably had poor management. But I find it somewhat absurd that their engineers might have done a better job. While engineers should be consulted on a variety of business issues, like feasibility, cost effective production, etc. Management should run the company.

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