Elon Musk’s most remarkable achievement is not his technology, but his speed of execution
Cast your mind back to June 30th 2016. Where were you? What were you thinking? Many were still reeling from Britan’s shock decision to exit the EU, while others stateside were eyeing their upcoming 4th of July celebrations. But Tesla and Elon Musk were bracing themselves for the biggest scandal to hit their company: A Tesla in self-driving mode had been involved in a fatal crash.
The press, industry experts and rivals alike were quick to jump on the story. This incident had the potential to cause a lot of harm to Musk’s reputation as he fearlessly pushed forward attempting to disrupt some of our most obstinate industries. But finally, this scandal only went on to prove Musk’s savviness and uncanny ability to respond to potentially crippling events.
June 30th and that scandal (while still noted as a turning point for SV’s autonomous vehicle ambitions) feel like a distant memory. Tesla, and more broadly Musk, across his various ventures, has made dozens notable positive headlines in the interim. Contrast that to the other big automotive drama in recent memory – VW’s Emissions Scandal. It still lingers today, and their stock sits 45% lower than its high in April 2015.
Serious scandals cannot be easily swept under the rug, but companies can respond with new innovations, products and a strong message about how they will take tangible steps to getting back to what initially made them successful. You can only do that if your organization is nimble, your product pipeline is brimming new innovation, and you have the right people on the ground to execute. Even Facebook fumbled in their initial responses to criticism in their role in the fake news scandals surrounding the American presidential election, and the likes of Yahoo and Google have all recently had major setbacks that have lingered longer than they should have, clearly highlighting how far they have drifted from their ‘few guys in a garage’ roots. Musk, despite having tens of thousands of employees at his command, has managed to keep that single minded focus and speed of execution as a priority, unburdened by layers of bureaucracy and unproductive management.
Since the scandal Musk has moved on quickly, and has been making headlines for (mostly) the right reasons. Obviously this represents a masterclass is PR, just as it is in management. Nonetheless, Musk seems to always be able deliver something new and exciting on a regular basis which renders most setbacks to being yesterday’s news. Just to recap a few notable headlines since June:
- July 2016: Terminates partnership with Mobileye for their sensors used for autopilot.
- July 2016: Musk writes blog post updating his famous master plan. Elates fans.
- September 2016: Space X rocket explodes on launchpad.
- October 2016: New Auto-pilot system launched. Enabling eventual stage 5 autonomy.
- October 2016: On an earnings call Musk discussed the Tesla sharing network, and why Uber and co. will not render them irrelevant.
- November 2016: SolarCity unveils some pretty cool looking solar panels
- November 2016: Tesla and SolarCity merger approved by shareholders
- December 2016: Musk decides he is going to make a new company, the Boring Company.
- December 2016: Holiday treat for Tesla X owners
Finally, and possibly the most impressive feat of all: In December, he received a product suggestion for Tesla superchargers on twitter and it was implemented 6 Days Later.
@loic You're right, this is becoming an issue. Supercharger spots are meant for charging, not parking. Will take action.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 11, 2016
Setting companies up for speed and innovation is part of Silicon Valley 101 – who can forget Mark Zuckerberg’s iconic quote about needing to ‘Move Fast and Break things’ – but doing it with such high stakes, and at the levels of complexity that Elon Musk does is unprecedented (we’re talking about disrupting automotive, energy and putting rockets on Mars here). I maintain that this is his most remarkable achievement, even over the wonderful innovations he has brought us thus far.