This is not a new phenomenon in tech, and especially in Silicon Valley, a place that needs its complicated gods.
For a long time, it was Steve Jobs who was essentially Zeus (to, I guess, Bill Gates’s Hades) in that pantheon. In Mr. Jobs’s early days, he was a seeker of wisdom who took LSD — take that Azealia Banks! — to find it. Then he was a tech brat in a bow tie, who was cast out in the wilderness for his brashness. Still later, the fallen immortal was redeemed and returned to Mount Olympus, wielding an iPod as his thunderbolt.
Too much? Sure, but it was a pretty good myth and even better since it was largely true. Over the ensuing years, Mr. Jobs used his famous reality distortion field to bend the news media and investors and everyone else to his will. He also warred many times with some journalists and investors, but no one remembers that anymore. His death, much too early and so very tragic, sealed his epic tale for eternity.
But it left Silicon Valley without a flawed hero figure to lavish praise and heap envy and scorn upon. Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google: Too odd; Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook: A nice boy but, um, no; Amazon’s Jeff Bezos: I guess in a pinch, but he lives in Seattle and probably couldn’t care less about being anyone’s god.
And so it was Mr. Musk who became the obvious choice, although the comparison to Mr. Jobs is certainly not a perfect one. Mr. Jobs was elegant and spare and even quiet; Mr. Musk is all pomp and circumstance. Mr. Jobs traveled in his mind; Mr. Musk wants to die on Mars (just not on landing, as he told me in an interview a few years ago).
What they do share is a proclivity for what is perhaps the most important element of all truly legendary makers of important things: Creative destruction.
For Mr. Jobs, it was a bet-the-company approach that ushered in a whole new way of computing. For Mr. Musk it is a lot of big notions, any one of which would be hard to do alone, from electric self-driving cars to ubiquitous solar energy to landing a spent rocket ship on a platform in the ocean. Yeah, he did that, too.