The Weirdness of Tech, Storytelling and Putin

The story you tell yourself determines your future.

Right now, horrible war crimes are being committed because of the story that Vladimir Putin has told himself. In his mind, he is a tzar who will reunify the old USSR, and will consequently go down in history as a great, powerful man. Though the validity of his story is questionable, we can be sure that the story he has told himself is the motivation behind the actions he has taken. Ultimately, it will define his future.

Stories are important. They are far more powerful than the truth. If we take a story to be true, then we’ll find ways to justify it, define it, and eventually act it out. As our minds think, eventually we become.

Now, let’s take the story of Elon Musk. No doubt – he is a genius, though he does act irrationally at times. He has certainly changed the world through electrifying transport and putting satellites into orbit. Musk has also made several stupid comments, accumulated US$40 million in fines for securities fraud and left in his wake a long list of broken promises, including putting 1 million robotaxis on the road by 2020. Today, he still can’t scale up to more than 750,000 cars a year, and there are exactly zero robotaxis on the road three years later. His promise of a Hyperloop is equally foolish when you realise he has basically rehashed an inferior version of a train.

But the Cult of Musk is stronger than the truth. Say a single negative word about him in any social forum, and his acolytes will attack you like a pack of wild dogs, accusing you of being a Luddite and not getting it. It doesn’t matter what the truth is. Musk’s story galvanises his fans with a real sense of religiosity. Recently I commented on a TikTok video featuring Musk proclaiming degrees are worthless and that you can learn anything without it. I agree – in many cases this is true. However, I made the mistake of posting a comment that I prefer my doctors to have medical degrees. I had 43 comments rain down on me that varied from accusing me of jealousy to claiming the entire medical industry is a scam. You should try it – click here and make a comment about an Elon tweet that doesn’t support his views, and you’ll see what I mean. There’s also a chance you’re reading this and thinking, ‘I thought Samma was into tech…. wow, I’m surprised’. Let me reiterate. I’m into science, humans flourishing and pointing out our foibles along the way. Storytelling is a powerful force that, like any technology, can be used to emancipate or fool people.

What’s most interesting is that it isn’t just individuals who can buy into a fantasy. We can have collective hallucinations. As I write this, the market value of Tesla is greater than the combined market value of the ten next biggest car companies. While Tesla had an early lead in EVs and autonomous vehicles, it’s now clear they have very little, if any, advantage. This is the financial value of story. I often say that Tesla is the world’s first trillion dollar story. If I had the choice to own either Tesla, or the ten next biggest companies that includes Ford, Toyota, GM, Daimler, BMW, Honda, and Volkswagen, I know what I’d choose. Without a question, it would be the ten auto manufacturers that collectively produce more than 50 million cars a year. The share market – which is meant to be a rational means of capital allocation – says Elon’s 705k annual production and ‘story’ is worth more.

Thought for the day: The story is always more profitable than the truth.

Now to you. What story do you tell yourself? The story of your capability, where you are going, and why you belong there? I tell my clients this all the time – they believe what you believe. The market looks to your story – the one you tell yourself first. By inference, this will the same story you are telling them, and often they put a value on that story.

Stories are what humanity buys into, simply because anything physical in nature starts as an idea or blueprint first. From building a house to putting a man on the moon. Our trajectory depends on our personal stories more than we give them credit for.

– – –

Keep Thinking,