This week I have been reading Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX by Eric Berger.
The book marks the first time Elon Musk has given an author free reign inside SpaceX to speak with employees about the company’s early years, and Musk himself was generous with his time so that Berger could get an understanding of his leadership style.
What you take away from this book is how differently Elon Musk operates from anyone else in the space business. He’s a doer. He’s a man devoted to speed and working fast, to setting aggressive schedules, to empowering his staff to attempt something to see if it works rather than planning on paper whether it will work. He’s obsessive about solving problems, and works with his whole team to do so, and makes decisive, quick decisions so his staff can get on with their jobs.
While we waited on Friday for the government to announce a preliminary decision that had been made the night before about Auckland’s alert levels, I couldn’t help thinking that some of Musk’s sense of urgency would have been a good thing this week.
I understand the government was waiting for one more set of test results to come through on Friday morning before announcing a change in alert levels, but as it had been a fortnight since a community case was confirmed in Auckland – and everyone expected there would be a move - would it have been so hard to give businesses even a heads up?
This week we also saw the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison throw the New Zealand government under the bus for dragging their heels over the Trans-Tasman bubble. Our Prime Minister replied the government would continue to investigate the opportunity of having a bubble. I would have thought a year into this pandemic we should be well past the point of investigating – why aren’t we implementing?
This week we also saw the vaccine roll our plan that looks very similar to plans underway internationally. Chris Hipkins announced we would vaccinate those most at risk of getting and spreading Covid-19, and those most at risk of getting seriously sick from it. Then we will slowly work our way through the rest of the population. Makes total sense - a good solid plan.
And yet, I have no idea when or whether I will be vaccinated this year. Fingers crossed I will. And why hasn’t some thought gone into the specifics of New Zealand’s situation. Should we be vaccinating all adults in South Auckland, in regions with MIQ facilities? Once we get to Group 4 should we be prioritising bus drivers and taxi drivers – everyone has come out this week with a reason why they should be moved up the queue.
The government is also yet to make a decision on two further categories: one for people who may need to get a vaccine on compassionate grounds; and a national significance category, which could include groups who need a vaccine in order to represent New Zealand overseas. Why this wasn’t thought about previously too, I don’t know.
A week during which it feels New Zealand is moving at a snail’s pace may not have been the time to read a book about a man who achieved what many thought was impossible. It feels like we’re ever cautious and conservative in how we deal with this pandemic. We need more doing, less pondering.
Of course, governing a nation isn’t running a space company, and politics isn’t business. Elon Musk’s leadership style tolerates risk and his attitude is driven by the reality that time is money – his money.
I can’t help comparing this to the government’s approach to COVID, in this case time is still money – but it’s not out of the pocket of those making the decisions, it’s our money – and the government needs reminding our time is precious too.
I’m not saying Elon Musk needs to run NZ – he’s quite wonderfully mad so I don’t think that would work out – I just wish for leadership with a sense of urgency, that embraces the fluidity of our situation, and gets things moving.