The past is a distraction: focus on the future
Elon Musk’s attitude to innovation is brilliantly controversial. Anything he’s already invented; he sees as ancient history. At Tesla, all his patents are available to analyse – he’s a fundamental believer in open source. Rumour has it he now wants to make all of Twitter’s algorithms publicly available too.
In June 2014, Musk issued a statement that announced: ‘All Our Patent Are Belong To You’. He said that “in the spirit of the open-source movement”, Tesla would not “initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology”. He doesn’t care if people borrow or build on his past ideas. In fact, he invites it.
I love this approach.
It basically shows that you don’t care about competition. You are so sure of your position in the market and confident in your ability to come up with the “next big thing” that you give rivals easy access to all your technology. It’s genius.
He also proves his commitment to industry-wide change and innovation. He wants to change the world by helping to promote sustainable transport and move away from our reliance on fossil fuels and his open-source philosophy supports that mission.
The proof is in Tesla’s growth rate: revenues in 2022 are likely to rise 50% on 2021’s results, and 2021 turnover was up 70% on 2020.
Of course, not all businesses can operate in this way. Elon Musk is a billionaire genius, after all – he can afford to be confident, almost arrogant, in his approach to innovation. But I do think that most leaders could benefit from taking a leaf from his book.
It’s never a good idea to spend too much time watching your competition. Firstly, you won’t mean to, but you will be influenced by their business model and product suite when perhaps you would have been better off coming up with a brand-new approach or creating products that are completely novel.
You will be distracted from your own growth plans because you’ll be so concerned with theirs.
If today’s leaders put 50% of the effort they expend watching their competition into inventing new products and services, they would probably become the market leader.
Instead of analysing your rivals, just ask your customers what they need. That is a far better route to success. Your competition might get something wrong, misinterpret a need, and then you’ll just reproduce that same mistake. By going to your customers – direct to the source – there will be fewer mistakes, fewer rewrites of your tech, and more growth. Plus your customers will love the fact you’re listening to them, rather than telling them what they need.
In business, you are your own competition. You are only as good as your last invention, your latest review, your most recent hire. That’s the best way to stay on top of your game. Don’t live in the past – or even the present – keep reimagining your business for the future.