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Don’t Innovate from the Status Quo

At the end of 2020, Fortune Magazine named Elon Musk as their Businessperson of the Year. Why? Because the “49-year-old Tesla and SpaceX CEO has seemingly defied gravity, transforming his Silicon Valley electric-auto maker into one of the world’s most valuable companies and elevating his Los Angeles-area rocket manufacturer to new heights – including successfully sending humans into orbit for the US for the first time since NASA quit doing so in 2011.” The noted key to his success is his resilience, steering his projects with entrepreneurial audacity and executive fortitude. [1]

How does this happen? How can we as business owners or community and nonprofit leaders create our own “brand” of that success? We need to change our mindset and borrow from the wisdom of Elon Musk: “Don’t Innovate from the Status Quo.”

I am surprised how many leaders show up to work as “Eeyore,” the sarcastic and pessimistic donkey from Winnie the Pooh who has trouble keeping his tail attached to his bottom, since the nail keeps falling out. Eeyore has a house made of sticks, which falls apart and has to be rebuilt.[2] I confess I have come to work from time to time as a cynical, frustrated idealist. However, in this mindset, we will make penny-wise and pound-foolish decisions, and then wonder why our businesses aren’t more successful. In order to achieve our potential and “take our businesses to the next level,” we must “rethink” how we plan and execute with a different mindset. We must “disrupt” our thinking and take a different approach. Here are the strategies to get moving in the right direction:

  1. Start with MISSION – a lot of people don’t realize that Tesla is not in the “car” business. They are in the “battery business.” Think about this. The car is built as the creative way to sell the battery. How can you drive innovative thinking around your mission to meet an unmet need?

  2. Focus on positive emotions and goals – we don’t realize how much our negative emotions highjack our thinking. Resilient leaders and entrepreneurs don’t get mired in “negative self-talk.” They view failure as a “lesson learned about what not to do” and they move on to the next experiment. Let us all do the same. Make a list of the “positive adjectives” that you believe to be true your company (or what you wish they were) and post them on the wall above your desk. Your mind goes to what it sees and is familiar with. Do the same with your goals. What you want will start to “manifest” itself in opportunities coming your way.

  3. Challenge your assumptions – our “mental models” and the assumptions that underlie them get in the way of looking at creative solutions to advancing our missions. Successful innovators “disrupt” the status quo by challenging the “we can’t do that” mentality and then “build the business case” to engage investors around the “return on investment” of a better/creative solution.

These principles work, regardless of industry or type of business, because of a real scientific principle called “the dynamic law of attraction.” Management scientists and systems theorists have been studying how businesses can be successful using these principles starting in the 1940s at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Unfortunately, many people dismiss this “positive intention thinking” as “voodoo,” while people like Elon Musk are changing the world. Whether you agree with his methods or not, we can all learn a valuable lesson from Elon and STOP attempting to innovate from the status quo.

Deb is a licensed consultant, trainer and peer reviewer for the Pennsylvania and National Standards for Excellence:® An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector and a certified Immunity to Change® facilitator. She was selected as one of PA’s Best 50 Women in Business.


[1] Fortune Magazine, January 2021. [2] Wikipedia

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