Few people can cut through corporate inertia like Elon Musk. In particular, the eccentric billionaire has become known for candidly speaking his mind on the topic of productivity. Here are a few of his more salient suggestions.
When a rule doesn’t make sense, change it.
“If a ‘company rule’ is obviously ridiculous, such that it would make for a great Dilbert cartoon, then the rule should change,” Musk wrote in a company-wide message to Tesla’s staff.
Musk’s words are funny, but his insight is serious. It’s amazingly easy for employees, teams, and eventually whole companies to take the “path of least resistance” by following unproductive rules. A culture that can eliminate such rules will eliminate needless friction.
Crush complaints with creativity.
Everyone complains about traffic—except Elon Musk. Instead, traffic complaints inspired Musk to start The Boring Company, which aims to decongest roads by implementing a tunnel system.
“Complaints are a sign that there is a problem to be solved,” Musk explained. “Paying attention to complaints is a great way to find innovative ideas that people actually need.”
Eliminate communication barriers.
A successful company empowers people to communicate fluidly across departmental barriers. While management is essential (Tesla isn’t a “flat” or non-hierarchical company), it should be easy for people in different parts of the company to collaborate.
Musk framed this idea memorably: “If, in order to get something done, an individual contributor has to talk to their manager, who talks to a director, who talks to a VP, who talks to another VP, who talks to a director, who talks to a manager, who talks to someone doing the actual work, then super dumb things will happen.”
Don’t let failure be a taboo.
What can stop your brightest employees from doing their best work? The fear of taking a risk that ends in failure.
“If something’s important enough, you should try,” Musk said on 60 Minutes, “even if the probable outcome is failure.”
At many companies, leaders understand that the risk of failure is an unavoidable part of peak productivity. However, that understanding isn’t always communicated to employees, so they shy away from taking risks that could yield great rewards.
To dissolve the stigma around failure, consider a company-wide webcast on this theme. Encourage your company’s leaders to open up about their own past failures and what they learned from them. When they’re less afraid of taking risks, your employees might surprise you with their talent!
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