It’s apropos that I spent Valentine’s Day with my leadership team, thinking about what the future holds in digital transformation, specifically in marketing. We love talking about the future and all the possibilities ahead.
Inevitably, in these conversations, my input will take an expected turn to the latest Elon Musk news. My team is used to it. They’ve informed me, in fact, that I have a “man crush” (whatever that is).
Just to be clear, I have a deep fascination for world-changing, mind-blowing, game-changing technology. As an early adopter of anything tech, I have an unquenchable thirst for the ideas that are transforming our world — from digital transformation in business to the digital evolution unfolding daily in our lives.
I use a saying from Google X co-founder Tom Chi quite often: “Let’s plan the future from the future” (and my team reflexively huddles). Last week I stopped my staff meeting to make sure we were part of history — even as viewers — with the launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket.
What I feel for Elon Musk is more than admiration and respect. The one word that even comes close is awe. This connection with someone I’ve never met is a kind of relationship for me, and maybe is centered in how we now so effortlessly connect digitally. So let me try to explain why my team thinks I have a man crush.
I admire that Elon is authentically different.
According to his mom, he has been different from his peers since childhood. Humans are pack animals and it isn’t easy being different.
On ordinary days it takes strength. On tough days it takes courage. Elon has been different all his life, and he’s embraced that and not allowed the voices around him to make him something he’s not. With all our human frailties and fallibilities, it is hard to imagine any person’s self-belief could be unshakeable. From where I sit, Elon’s self-belief appears to be exactly that. I respect that strength in understanding that his differences are unique assets, not shortcomings.
Futurism, Futuristic & Futuresque
I’ve sat through hundreds of presentations from companies and VCs who state their passion is to change the world. Here is a guy who not only wants to change the world but is actually changing the world. He’s also protecting our world from what he sees as AI threats. And he’s thinking about other worlds for when we’ve exhausted our beautiful planet. From PayPal to HyperLoop, from electric cars to the BFR (Big Falcon Rocket), Elon thinks like no one else. It is awe inspiring, energizing and humbling.
Test and Fail & Test and Learn
A challenge for many leaders is how to create a safe environment for teams to test new ideas without proving the expected hypothesis. In short, how to fail. In our success-oriented world, we’re programmed from an early age that failing is not good. Elon tips this notion on its head.
You know how many times the SpaceX team tried to land the Falcon rocket on ships to scope out landing on return trips from Mars? FIVE. A lot of people are set back by one failure. Many more are worried at failing twice. By the third fail, most people are thinking of giving up or actually do give up. By the fourth fail, the majority don’t want to play anymore and need help to try again.
Elon even scales failure to new heights. Each Falcon rocket costs around $62 million dollars to launch. That’s not including the cost of the drone ships destroyed on each failed landing attempt. Or the salaries of the SpaceX team. And just last week, not only an awe-inspiring launch of the Falcon Heavy, but a synchronized landing of two booster rockets.
Elon is a leader who recognizes that failing is part of learning. He knows that failing fast and using the learnings to test again is invaluable. On a much smaller scale, this is how I ask my team to think and act. To embrace our failures, learn and then jump right back in. Sometimes with bruises and dents in our egos.
All through my childhood growing up in Australia, I was encouraged to shoot for the moon. Now Elon has raised the bar and has shown us all how to not only shoot for Mars, but take action to get there. What’s not to love about that?