(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)
Elon Musk: “It’s legal right?”
Joe Rogan: “Totally legal.”
Elon Musk: “OK.”
That little exchange set off a firestorm back in September 2018 when inventor and entrepreneur Elon Musk shared a fat joint that combined both marijuana and tobacco with comedian Joe Rogan on Rogan’s hugely popular podcast show. Musk happily toked, drank whiskey and for over two hours discussed a wide range of topics with Rogan, ranging from boring giant tunnels under Los Angeles to what he thinks about when he brushes his teeth.
But it was the marijuana incident that really got everyone’s attention. Shortly after the podcast aired, the media jumped all over Musk’s behavior. Stockholders and board members were outraged. The price of Musk’s publicly held car company, Tesla, dropped. NASA investigated his rocket-ship company SpaceX. Some used the situation to complain about their boss, and even depart the organization. As usual, Musk took it all in stride, although he later admitted in an email to his employees that his behavior was “not wise.”
So why did Elon Musk publicly smoke a joint with Joe Rogan, anyway? Because he’s Elon Musk, that’s why.
Elon Musk spends his days thinking and then literally executing ideas that will improve the conditions of human kind, like battery-powered cars, implanting chips in people’s brains or sending spaceships to Mars. He has many faults. He has many critics. And he deserves all of that. But he’s just one of those one-in-a-zillion people who can get away with just about anything because he’s so darn smart. He is a genius. He is a billionaire.
You are not a genius, or a billionaire (I assume). Neither am I. You and I will probably never be on Joe Rogan’s show, let alone get a chance to share a spliff with the host. We will not create technologies that will change humankind. We will not ever fully understand the implications of friction-less travel, artificial intelligence or robotics, let alone how to insert microscopic threads into a human brain. And we will never create the kinds of things or accomplish what Elon Musk has accomplished before the age of 50.
Which is why only Elon Musk can get away with publicly smoking a joint with Joe Rogan. Back in the real world, with normal, average people, we — i.e. business owners, managers and executives — should never, ever consider doing such a thing. Our behaviors can’t be erratic and certainly not illegal. We can’t “let loose” at a company party or get too drunk with our co-workers after hours. When in public we must say and do the right things, behave professionally, act respectful and demonstrate politeness. People are watching us all the time, and even when we’re not at work, we’re still representing our companies. That is the price we pay for being leaders and not geniuses.
Maybe one day you and I will be so rich and famous that we can let loose and publicly do something crazy. But that’s probably not going to happen. So in the meantime, behave. It’s in the best interest of your company, your employees, your family and your community. We can admire what Elon Musk does from afar. But we’re not him.