People fear what they do not understand. Evolutionary psychology would say this is because the world was a dangerous place for millions of years, and what man did not know or understand could literally kill him. This fear of the unknown is what leads common people to believe that progressive innovations for their time are "impossible," and the innovators behind them are crazy. Common people thought the Wright brothers were crazy for working on a flying machine, Thomas Edison was insane for attempting an electric light bulb over 2,000 times, and Andrew Carnegie was nuts for trying to build a bridge over the Mississippi River.
In our generation, there is no innovator that has been publicly referred to as crazy or insane more than Elon Musk. After Zip2 and PayPal, his first two successful ventures, he bet his entire net worth of over $200 million dollars on three revolutionary concepts known as Space X, Tesla and SolarCity. When I say that he bet everything, there was literally a point in 2008 that he was borrowing money from friends and family to pay his personal bills while Space X was burning through tens of millions of his own cash per test rocket launch. After studying the life of Elon Musk, I believe he is incredibly forward thinking, ambitious and many of his ideas go way over the head of common folks, which is why many have referred to him as crazy. Here is what some other respected business icons say about Elon:
Larry Page, CEO of Google and good friend, said when talking about Elon, "Good ideas are always crazy until their not. I've learned that your intuition about things you don't know much about isn't very good. The way Elon talks about this is that you always need to start with the principles of a problem. What are the physics of it? How much time will it take? How much will it cost? How much cheaper can I make it? There's this level of engineering and physics that you need to make judgements about what's possible and interesting. Elon is unusual in that he knows that, and he also knows business and organization and leadership and governmental issues."
Peter Thiel, PayPal cofounder, said this about Elon, "On a micro level, it looks like Elon has the two most successful clean tech companies in the U.S. We would rather explain his success as being a fluke. But there is now a degree to which you have to ask whether his success is an indictment on the rest of us who have been working on much more incremental things. To the extent the world doubts Elon, I think it's a reflection on the insanity of the world and not on the supposed insanity of Elon."
To elaborate on why many people do not understand many of Elon's ideas at the outset, it is because he possesses what Mark Cuban refers to as the "knowledge advantage" in all of his respective fields. Not only does he know more than anyone else, he knows so much more than everyone else in his undiscovered fields that he struggles in communicating with the rest of the world. It would be like trying to explain calculus to a class who hasn't yet mastered addition and subtraction. Before he started Space X, he read every book ever written on building rockets. He talked to every industry expert and he learned from every mistake that space programs around the world had made in their previous efforts. He understood the physics, the engineering and the previous problems that had to be solved in order to succeed. Then, he burned through over $100 million dollars of his own money testing and learning through trial and error how to build a rocket from scratch, fly it into orbit and land it back safely on earth. While gaining this knowledge advantage he was the laughing stock of the business world. Now that he is worth over $10 Billion and has three different companies that are now changing the business world as we know it, we have to ask ourselves, "Who exactly is crazy?"