Yesterday, I woke up in the future. A man, with a private company, has sent a rocket to space and left a car in orbit. It’s truly the stuff of wild science fiction.
I was just 6 weeks old when a man stepped on the moon, and a teenager when I watched Challenger explode on TV. Since then, Space travel has seemed unobtainable again, a rare few launched from the steppes of Kazakhstan.
Today, its a different prospect. Millions of words will be written about Elon Musk and his ambition to reach Mars, he’ll fit it in alongside electric cars, solving power issues with batteries and shooting people from London to New York in less than 60 minutes inside a tube.
As well as the flamethrowers.
But what is really interesting is the horizon of these goals. Like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk is working on stuff that possibly won’t be fully formed and realised for decades. Maybe not even in their lifetimes. Like the work of Steve Jobs, who fashioned Apple into the titan it has become, earning more and more, even after his death.
All of these leaders and their teams will be well rewarded this year and next year, and their families will never want for anything. Their companies and shareholders make huge amounts of money. Their products and services change lives around the world.
Most importantly though, their ideas and achievements will live on long after they have gone, these people are building dynasties from technology. Their work will leave a legacy for many years.
Maybe even a billion.
I came across the beautiful Japanese concept of ‘nemawashi’ yesterday, which is an informal process of laying foundations for a proposed change or project. I guess we would call it ‘socialising’, or consider it gathering feedback to reduce the friction of the proposal.
The word ‘nemawashi’ comes from gardening and literally translates as ‘going around the roots’. A gardener would gently dig around the roots of a tree over an extended period of time to prepare the tree for a move.
Moving a tree is hard. Take your time.
Sometimes, landing an idea or a change is difficult and involves laying groundwork in a deliberate way so as not to introduce shock into a process.
Nemawashi. Playing the long game.
I recently encountered someone who had built a barrier between them and customers because ‘they had been told NOT to speak to customers’. It made me think about permission.
“I wish you luck, and stubbornness, and the absence of the need for a permission slip from anybody. Just go fucking do it.” – Elizabeth Gilbert
It seems to me that building walls of process and silos of communication are huge barriers to success. Anything that stands in the way of employees doing ‘the right thing’ has a negative impact on company culture and ultimately success.
“Anyone at Tesla can and should email/talk to anyone else according to what they think is the fastest way to solve a problem for the benefit of the whole company. You can talk to your manager’s manager without his permission, you can talk directly to a VP in another dept, you can talk to me, you can talk to anyone without anyone else’s permission.” – Elon Musk
This approach needs to be infused in culture and encouraged from the top down.
There is nothing like ambiguity to crystallise the abilities of a leader. Navigating uncharted waters, and helping others see a way forward is an essential skill for anyone who aims to take a leadership role.
Leadership is accepting responsibility for enabling others to achieve shared purpose under conditions of uncertainty – Marshall Ganz
The old adage of ‘change is a constant’ has been true in all the businesses I have served in, and every group has needed its leaders to take responsibility and enable their teams to move toward a common goal, whatever the conditions and challenges.