This is Part 2 of a four-part series on Elon Musk’s companies. For an explanation of why this series is happening and how Musk is involved, start with Part 1.
A Wait But Why post can be a few different things. One type of WBW post is the “let’s just take this whole topic and really actually get to the bottom of it so we can all completely get it from here forward.” The ideal topic for that kind of post is one that’s really important to our lives, and that tends to come up a lot, but that’s also hugely complex and confusing, often controversial with differing information coming out of different mouths, and that ends up leaving a lot of people feeling like they don’t totally get it as well as they “should.”
The way I approach a post like that is I’ll start with the surface of the topic and ask myself what I don’t fully get—I look for those foggy spots in the story where when someone mentions it or it comes up in an article I’m reading, my mind kind of glazes over with a combination of “ugh it’s that icky term again nah go away” and “ew the adults are saying that adult thing again and I’m seven so I don’t actually understand what they’re talking about.” Then I’ll get reading about those foggy spots—but as I clear away fog from the surface, I often find more fog underneath. So then I research that new fog, and again, often come across other fog even further down. My perfectionism kicks in and I end up refusing to stop going down the rabbit hole until I hit the floor.
For example, I kind of got the Iraq situation, but there was a lot of fog there too—so when I wrote a post about it, one fog-clearing rabbit hole took me all the way back to Muhammad in 570AD. That was the floor. Digging into another part of the story brought me to the end of World War I. Another brought me to the founding of ISIS.
Hitting the floor is a great feeling and makes me realize that the adults weren’t actually saying anything that complicated or icky after all. And when I come across that topic again, it’s fun now, because I get it and I can nod with a serious face on and be like, “Yes, interest rates are problematic” like a real person.
I’ve heard people compare knowledge of a topic to a tree. If you don’t fully get it, it’s like a tree in your head with no trunk—and without a trunk, when you learn something new about the topic—a new branch or leaf of the tree—there’s nothing for it to hang onto, so it just falls away. By clearing out fog all the way to the bottom, I build a tree trunk in my head, and from then on, all new information can hold on, which makes that topic forever more interesting and productive to learn about. And what I usually find is that so many of the topics I’ve pegged as “boring” in my head are actually just foggy to me—like watching episode 17 of a great show, which would be boring if you didn’t have the tree trunk of the back story and characters in place.
So when it was time to start what I had labeled in my head as “the Tesla post,” I knew this was going to be one of those posts. To understand if and why Tesla Motors matters, you have to understand both the story of cars and the story of energy—two worlds I somehow am simultaneously confused by and tremendously sick of. Just hearing someone say “climate change” or “energy crisis” or “tailpipe emissions” makes me kind of gag at this point—just too much politics, too many annoying people, too much misinformation on all sides, and it’s just hard to know how much I actually care and if there can be a solution to all of it anyway. So I did what I do when my tortoise shits when I’m out of the apartment and then spends hours walking through it and tracking it across everything, including the walls somehow—I rolled up my sleeves, took a deep breath, whispered, “Be a man, Tim,” and started scraping through layers of shit. If I have to live in a world with people arguing constantly about energy and oil and greenhouse gases and incentive programs, I might as well build myself a proper tree trunk.
After weeks of reading and asking questions and writing, I’ve emerged from the tortoise sewage with something that toes the line between a long blog post and a short book. I could have broken this into multiple posts, but it’s all one story and I wanted to keep it all together. It’ll be a bit of a time investment, but I think you’ll come out of it with a sturdier tree trunk about all of this than you have now. And as it turns out, when it comes to this topic, we may be witnessing a very awesome moment in history without quite realizing it yet.