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INNOVATE

Elon Musk Just Shared His Secret for Engineering Better Performance

You can make this systemic shift in seconds.

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BY Lisa Calhoun - 13 Mar 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

SpaceX founder Elon posted a serious picture last week with a funny song quote:

Lots of people got a laugh, but just prior to that, his honesty really was getting a bit too much for some of the country's largest companies. In a short Twitter stream, he shared his thinking on how to improve the U.S. economy. It wasn't flattering to our big business sector--

Yes, he dared to cite China as an example of a system that works. Stings, but hard to argue otherwise, when recently completed projects include a 3-line railway station done in 9 hours over the weekend.

Musk is leaning into the idea that in big systems, system design trumps individual decision making.

You may be the best at your job right now, but is the situation around your work holding you and everyone else back? Principles that worked when the U.S. had a pioneering economy, where instability was the norm and innovation was every day, are holding back innovation in our more mature economy, where stability is the blessed norm and innovation is often aspirational. Needless bureaucracy and cost-plus pricing (with no commensurate value add) are hallmarks of our economy but hamstring agility, innovation and value for the dollar.

Even as an individual, you have more power than you think. The biggest change under your direct control is recognizing the macro-systems their influence on your performance. This can sharpen your thinking about how to solve problems. You may find yourself acting differently. A systems-design lens can influence your choice of employer, how you hire, how you vote, where you live, and whether or not you run for office.

We're in an era of editing human DNA. High time we took a look at editing business DNA, too.

Many of the "systems" Musk is taking aim at are not moral laws, but laws of convenience and habit. These ways of getting things done often have procedures for being changed, too. Many of the procedures we inherited in business have their roots in post World War II or just after, and have been embroidered on since then.

As a team member, you can speed innovation by actively considering if the system in your industry is working for you, or against you. Rise to the engineering challenge of innovating outside the system, like Tesla did this when their sales and service team chose to open Tesla service centers instead of "dealerships." Use long-term decision making like Jeff Bezos to see if a longer horizon reframes the solution for you.

Taking the long view can help you make decisions that go from just okay for today, to transformational in 10 years.

Any transformational plan has to take in systematic innovation. It's where fortunes are made, as Amazon, Tesla, Google and the other game-changing companies demonstrate. You can make the shift to consider the systemic impact and systemic roadblocks in seconds. Following up on it takes a lifetime--but it's a lot more fun than accepting a status quo you question.

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