Elon Musk is known to be a terrible communicator. For him, the fact of having to address others – be it his teams, the media or financial analysts – is a kind of nuisance, in any case a constraint that affects the speed of his action and business fluidity. Consistently, his first decision was to reduce the number of communicators at Twitter from 100 to 2. He had applied the same treatment to SpaceX or Tesla, sometimes reserving time for direct communication such as when he visits his factories with well-known youtubers like Tim Dodd or Marques Brownlee to whom he will devote several hours of sometimes unstructured conversations where geeks talk to geeks, without filter or contradiction.
Human factor: an unknown notion for Musk
For Elon Musk, taking into account the human factor in general is a waste of time. What ensues may seem obnoxious, but it’s actually cognitive insensitivity, as if his prefrontal cortex is deficient. In his 2017 biography of Musk, journalist Ashley Vance recounts this uplifting scene about Mary Beth Brown, the loyal assistant who had worked with him from the start and lived through the dark times at Tesla and SpaceX – of which there were many. “MB”, as she was nicknamed, had an eye on everything, rounding off the corners, following her boss’s slave rhythm, protecting him from intruders, stringently managing an agenda that has always spanned a hundred hours. a week and often making important decisions on behalf of his boss. “She was an extension of Musk,” says Ashley Vance. One fine day, Mary Beth Brown asks Musk to take into consideration his ten years of absolute commitment at his side in the management of SpaceX and Tesla. Musk then suggests that he take a vacation. On her return, Mary Beth discovers that her boss has entrusted the assistant of Gwynne Shotwell (the general manager of SpaceX) with the management of her agenda. “MB” will leave soon after. Explaining this decision to his biographer, Elon Musk had found that his collaborator had taken a little too much comfort in his functions “and that, frankly, she needed a life“.
This chilling episode, the thousands of Twitter employees who today lament their fate should have had it in mind because everything was written there: Musk’s lack of empathy, his detachment, his obsessive character specific to some people with Asperger’s Syndrome.
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The new owner of Twitter, however, has some reason to apprehend as he did this notoriously dysfunctional and not very innovative company, built on a succession of managerial renunciations, and at the antipodes of the titanium discipline of Tesla and SpaceX.
Instead of Friday’s messy assault with its e-mails falling like so many cleavers, its avalanches of orders and counter-orders and its procession of humiliations, the founder would have been inspired to settle down and build his argument.
What Musk should have told his troops
Here is the speech that should have taken the boss of Twitter. We imagine him recording a video. This is edited in a series of short shots, to give strength to an oral expression that often resembles the audio version of an interior monologue. The following purely fictional text is inspired by facts and public statements by Musk.
As of Thursday evening, I am the sole owner of Twitter Incorporated. As such, I must act drastically to put the company back on track.
Over the past few months, with Tesla teams, we have had time to conduct extensive Twitter due diligence. And it is moreover this dive which had led me to give up this acquisition after the discovery of innumerable problems. I have since changed my mind because I believe it is possible to make Twitter the most influential company in the global public debate.
But the task is immense.
Twitter is not doing well. In absolute terms and in relative terms. As the latest quarterly results showed, we are currently losing $3 million a day. Compared to our competitors, we are dropped: each employee of Twitter generates less than 700,000 dollars in annual turnover, against 1.4 million for Facebook or Google and 2.4 million for Apple. Others count profits per employee, we only record losses.
It is therefore not tenable.
This situation is the result of years of inept and largely absent management. In business as in life, the fish always rots from the head. This is why the members of the C-Suite [les grandes directions] were removed from their posts. Some of these members were removed for serious insufficiency. I will have the opportunity to talk about it again.
“Now every day counts”
We are facing a difficult financial situation and have to reckon with formidable competition: if you doubt it, look at the growth of a TikTok for example, the territories it is investing one after the other, thanks essentially to the power of its algorithms. ‘Cause we’re not in a business of cajoling opinion makers which we like. We need to align the company around a powerful, flawless technical platform that can bring strong value to Twitter, for its users and the ad customers who support us and who are not overly satisfied.
It also requires a completely different organization that cannot be built on the rubble left by the previous management.
Our status as a private company, or about to be [Twitter ne sera bientôt plus cotée en Bourse], leaves us full latitude to act quickly and in depth. Everything will be done in parallel. We will review our engineering practices; we will redesign the organizational chart of the box based on SpaceX and Tesla. We have some credibility in this area. There is nothing magical about it: a huge amount of work, and the flattest possible management structure where people selected for their skills are invested with the autonomy necessary to quickly take the necessary decisions. with the sole objective of business excellence and growth. For those who do not follow what is said, I repeat the three keywords: skills – we will find them and value them at Twitter -, autonomy, and the quest for excellence. This is how we created the world’s leading electric car maker and dominate the global space launcher market – waiting to go to the Moon and Mars.
“I don’t treat myself to a new toy”
In recent weeks, you have been showered with more or less informed opinions on my personality and my action. Remember only one thing: I am involved, personally I mean. Twitter’s acquisition isn’t just about the world’s richest man getting a new toy. My supposed fortune is very fluctuating and it is illiquid because it is made up of shares in Tesla and SpaceX. This is why I had to personally borrow 13 billion dollars from banks which impose a sustained rate of repayment on me.
We won’t achieve our goals with people who mostly work remotely, spend their days in sterile Zoom meetings or talking on Slack. This will be done with teams working on site for at least forty hours a week, producing code and delivering new features. Those of this platform are scandalously antediluvian. It’s going to need something new.
One last thing about Twitter’s business model. It is currently inefficient and must evolve. We will evaluate, test, iterate, decide. Quick. This is how we move forward. This concerns power users [utilisateurs intensifs] of Twitter who will have to contribute financially – a little – to the platform as soon as they derive a tangible benefit from it for their business, their personal brand, or their ego. In exchange, they will benefit from dedicated functionalities.
This also concerns advertisers. Some have seen fit to temporarily jump ship Twitter to go along with an opinion that is often unfavorable to me. Others stay because they have confidence in our ability to execute. The first ones will come back, I guarantee it, but at a high price.
To those who fear that Twitter will become a lawless agora, I say: look at the current state of the platform where, in a company of 7,500 people, it is still wobbly algorithms that decide on the suspension of accounts while conclaves always oriented in the same direction decide who has the right to speak. Twitter must be a platform where everyone finds their account: some appreciate strong speeches, others want more civilized and more constructive exchanges. We will make sure to meet all expectations. If this is what being a freedom of expression absolutist is, then I recognize myself in this definition.
The next few days will not be easy for anyone, I am aware of that. But the pursuit of the objective and the survival of the collective cannot leave room for good feelings.
See you next time.
This could have been the posture of Elon Musk. But he works differently. Actress Linda Hamilton, briefly married to director James Cameron, also a man with countless accomplishments to his credit (and friend of Musk), said that her ex had “definitely swung to the side of the machines” in reference to the coldness relentless of the Terminator. Elon Musk is undoubtedly made of the same metal. A cold alloy.
The chronicle of Aurélien Saussay