Musa Kalenga.
JOHANNESBURG - Mainstream media was recently set abuzz with the launch of the new Tesla Semi. The electric truck, which is set to disrupt the transportation industry completely, outperforms current competitors on virtually all metrics - speed, load, range and general “Bamf” performance.

Businessman Elon Musk coined the term “Bamf” to describe “Bad A*** Mother F***er”. The launch follows recent success with their launch of the Tesla Model 3, which Musk was quoted as saying was the “fastest production car ever”.

Making the rounds in a Whatsapp group near you has been the meme of the Tesla Roadster versus the Bugatti and once again, Tesla outperforms on speed, acceleration, mileage and, of course, price.

Tesla, The Boring Company and SpaceX are all Musk’s companies that seem to be the poster children of technology and disruption in our generation. They are re-defining engineering standards and challenging conventional and established industries.

What started out as the obsession of a genius prodigy from Pretoria, is starting to pay off in a monumental way.

Why is the Tesla team winning?

Well, firstly I think the overarching force driving the success is speed (excuse the pun, although it works). Tesla began a journey into electric vehicles much later than other competitors, but managed to gain traction very quickly and in a very short space of time, Tesla has gone from being a car with a great computer to an app with wheels.

File image: Elon Musk. IOL.

1. Unreasonable leadership

Musk grew up fantasising about other planets and has spent his adult life creating a future that excites him. Some manifestations of this world in his head have come to life with the businesses that he has built and some that he has sold.

On many levels to achieve what he has, his leadership style is completely unreasonable and uncompromising. As an outlier, this is really inspiring, but the world may not be able to cope with many Elon Musks.

The human capital cost of the people who work for him is high and, while inspiring, I really think it can be very destructive. To be able to operate at that level consistently over prolonged periods leads to many unforeseen physical and mental issues.

2. First principles thinking

As you may have noticed, I have become a big fan of this approach to problem solving. Musk speaks very openly and favourably about how he goes about unpacking really complex tasks by breaking them up into smaller, more manageable pieces. This is part of the reason he can enter industries he has zero prior knowledge about and still completely win. In a cluttered world of data and information, the purist view of first principles thinking is almost sacred.

3.Understanding new ecosystem

Salim Ismail, who is a founder of singularity, speaks about how technology has shifted our context from scarcity to abundance. Companies like Ford, which once were considered Tesla competitors were built in the age of scarcity and have been successful due to an ecosystem from decades ago.

The context of tomorrow is about abundance. Technology has created an amplification of data, information and things in general. This amplification has made it possible for Tesla to be an app with wheels because the value for consumers has also shifted from the metal and rubber, to the ecosystem that integrates into other parts of the customers’ ecosystem.

4. Unafraid of failure

Salim Ismail also speaks about “exponential organisations”. These are companies that are relentless in their pursuit of innovation and as such, they are designed to embrace change and risk.

The appetite to try and fail in an organisation like Tesla propels the adoption of unrealistic goals and failure then just simply becomes a part of the journey to success.

There are so many Youtube videos of interviews with Musk where he admits to not having all the answers and being concerned about certain things, but this admission almost comes across as a licence to press on valiantly. This is a special and rare kind of leadership.

5. Attract the best talent

In Musk’s book, it is said that Apple is the graveyard for Tesla engineers. At first read, I was like “ouch - low blow”, but when I thought about it and if you consider what Tesla has been able to achieve, you can understand the seed of truth in the statement. Tesla’s success has come from developing an army of super talented and abundantly capable engineers and professionals across a number of fields.

The chink in the armour 

Much of the success, the business, and the innovation including the PR of Tesla is about Musk. His personality is big, his views are strong and his leadership is epic.

My biggest criticism would be around sustainability of pace and leadership style if Musk was not there anymore. I could be wrong, but the success of an organisation like Tesla seems to be intrinsically linked to Musk and this key man dependency could be the single biggest threat to this amazing story of innovation and success in our lifetime.

Musa Kalenga is the chief executive and founder of Bridge Labs and an enthusiastic entrepreneur who is passionate about using technology to empower the digitally invisible.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

- BUSINESS REPORT