Over the summer I read Elon Musk: How the Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is Shaping Our Future by Ashlee Vance. It’s a fascinating read about a man who is looking to change our world for the better. There is much we can all learn from his success with Tesla, PayPal and SpaceX. Below are four lessons for designing successful products.
- DREAM BIG: Musk is the king of BIG. Tesla have revolutionised the automotive industry, creating the first new successful American car company in over 50 years. They haven’t just created a range of cars to compete within the industry, they have changed the industry forever. The lesson here for designing better products is to avoid the typical constraints which limit products. While there are many constraints such as technology and budget, the biggest constraint is the mindset of the teams building products. Musk and the team at Tesla did not accept the recognised constraints of electric vehicles; that they are slow and have limited range. The Roadster launched with a range of around 400km and 0-100km acceleration of under 4 seconds. That makes it faster than a Porsche 911! This is even most astonishing when you compare the vehicle to the Nissan Leaf electric car which has a range of under 200km and takes 9.9 seconds to get to 100KM.
- FOCUS ON THE END GOAL. To achieve big goals you need perseverance and the ability to stay on track. It took SpaceX six years, following numerous failed attempts, to successfully launch it’s first rocket Falcon 1 into orbit. By this time Musk had invested $100M into the company. Furthermore, the end goal for SpaceX is to enable the colonisation of Mars and Musk has stated that they will not go public until Mars flights begin. Copying Musk’s focus on the end goal is sure to help with designing better products.
- WORK WITH AWESOME PEOPLE. Both Telsa and SpaceX have recruited incredibly talented individuals. This includes Tesla design chief Franz von Holzhausen who was previously Director of Design at Mazda. Tesla and SpaceX both have grown by employing the top talent graduating from leading universities. Both firms are considered employers of choice in their industries. Great people are an important step towards designing better products.
- BE AN ENABLER. Designing better products requires leaders who can remove road blocks. As a manager and leader Musk, in spite of being incredibly demanding, supports his teams to get the job done. The book recounts the story of Musk improving production speed of a factory by flying his private jet to England to deliver new machine tools.
Are there other important lessons we can take from Musk for designing better products?