Elon Musk, Simplicity and My Soapbox
SpaceX, Elon Musk’s company, as reported in Time Magazine, June 18, 2012, successfully launched and landed a rocket, in record time and with streamlined resources. While I read the article I kept correlating the situation with my thinking about workplace productivity.
It’s perfectly clear to me that communication is a major factor in their ability to pull off such an impressive fete. I hope I can make the connection for you.
First of all, there’s Musk’s call for simplicity: “If you want to change something or fix something, just stalk to Elon. It keeps the signal-to-noise ration high.” When the lines of communication are narrow like that, there’s less room for misinterpretation. Think of how different it would be in many organizations if an employee has a question and can go to the person who is most equipped to answer it, rather than to someone designated on the org chart.
Simplicity also shows up in design. I’m not as interested in the mechanics of the rocket as I am in the process behind arriving at those mechanics. They’ve hired people from other venues who had to have prior experience with bloated and convoluted decision-making, so what’s different here that there’s so little bureaucracy? Musk says, People ask how it’s possible to be safer but also more cost-effective. It’s possible because complexity is the enemy of both.” At his three companies the norm is to ask questions, inquire, debate, prototype, problem-solve, challenge until everything is stripped down to the essence—the simplest form. From there they build, adding as little as possible to achieve the required results.
I know all this because Tesla Motors used to have a showroom here in Boulder, and I had the opportunity, as a member of International Business Circle, to spend an evening with some headquarters staff people and Elon on the phone (he could not attend in person because he was in a tobogganing accident). No doubt what he told us about the development of the Tesla automobiles applies to all his ventures.
Secondly, there’s consistency of purpose. I know some people who work at NASA and they talk about constant changes in messages, decisions, and priorities. In Musk’s case, although I don’t know this first-hand, there’s a clear direction and unwavering drive to arrive at it. “I believe,” says Musk, “that I have a design in mind that would enable the colonization of Mars.” Remind you of John F Kennedy’s famous race-to-the-moon speech?
Finally, there’s the Control issue. When I’m on my soapbox I say that Creativity loves Structure and hates Control. Most of the employees of SpaceX don’t have offices, including Musk, but they have discipline, rigor and priorities, so they don’t have to spend their creative juices trying to figure out boundaries. They don’t have creative constraints and rules, rules, rules, so there’s little that gets in their way towards innovation.
Streamlined, uncluttered, open communication is worth billions of dollars.
How do you think this kind of work environment would effect listening skills?