Monday, January 5, 2015

Transformational Change

It's common to attribute great innovation to creativity, intelligence or wealth.   Not everyone though can be brilliant, geeky, and a billionaire -- on the other hand,  it sure seems to help. Two transformational figures that come to mind are Steve Jobs and Elon Musk.

picture of Elon Musk with superimposed SpaceX and Tesla Motors logospicture of Steve Jobs, founder of Apple

What chances
do the rest of us have for creating great change?

One can only stand in awe looking at the legacy of change created, and being created, by these two men.  

The innovations of Steve Jobs are widely recognized, but Elon Musk is still far from being a household name. 

What's important in looking at these two icons, is not to be intimidated, but inspired. Their ability to create change is really no different from the rest of us.  Clearly they they have had phenomenal resources to enable them to start and scale faster once they have an initial idea. But how they start the idea process and work with it is something we can draw from by drilling down past the personas and wealth.  

First principles and the iterative process.

Two things these men share in common are zero base thinking (what Musk calls First Principles)  and an iterative development process.  
Iteration is the act of repeating a process with the aim of approaching a desired goal, target or result. Each repetition of the process is also called an "iteration", and the results of one iteration are used as the starting point for the next iteration. --Wikipedia
The core of iteration is that your concepts, ideas, products or processes are in a constant state of improvement.  You create something great today and tomorrow you approach it as starting point for improvement rather than the ending point.  Musk says it's, "Constantly be thinking about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself."

Zero base thinking is just what it sounds like, it is starting with a blank piece of paper rather than building upon the best practices and examples around us.  Most of us think and communicate by way of analogy — comparing new experiences and ideas to those we already know exist.  Musk says the benefit of “first principles” thinking, "allows you to innovate in clear leaps, rather than building small improvements onto something that already exists." 
“I think it’s important to reason from first principles rather than by analogy. The normal way we conduct our lives is we reason by analogy. [With analogy] we are doing this because it’s like something else that was done, or it is like what other people are doing. [With first principles] you boil things down to the most fundamental truths…and then reason up from there.”--Elon Musk
Watch this video interview with Kevin Rose where Musk gives an example of the first automobile. While everyone else was trying to improve horse-drawn carriages, someone looked at the fundamentals of transportation and the combustion engine in order to create a car.

"All men dream, but not equally.  Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible." -- T. E Lawrence

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