The Power of Conflict — How Musk, Jobs, Disney, and Ray Dalio Fight Failure

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Have you ever noticed that pretty much every superhero has experienced some sort of terrible trauma before they transformed into someone extraordinary? Ironman was kidnapped. Batman saw his parents murdered. Ditto for Wonder Woman’s aunt and Spiderman’s uncle. This kind of transformational trauma seems to happen in the real world too. Some of the greatest innovators of all time faced major failure in their careers.

To be an Innovation Legend, do you have to be an A**hole?

Elon on Stage My View of Musk As the Crowd Goes Crazy at SXSW 2018

If you’ve ever been to the SXSW Conference, you know it’s full of many surprises. This year none was bigger than the announcement that Elon Musk would be speaking. As soon as the email went out, I knew I would wake up as early as I had to in order to get tickets to see him talk. It didn’t matter if it meant waiting in line for hours or that I would miss the Melinda Gates’s keynote (that was poorly scheduled right after his). And I wasn’t the only one that felt this way.

The Evolution of Elon Musk: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Elon Musk2Photo by Web Summit via Flickr CC

As someone who considers themselves up-to-date with the latest news and trends on everything design and innovation, I was taken aback when I saw a Facebook post back in December. My friend was calling out Elon Musk for being a jerk (and no it wasn’t one of the those Facebook friends that rants about everything). He was referring to a Twitter battle between Musk and Jarrett Walker, a public transit policy consultant with a PhD in humanities.  

Their Twitter feud began because of Elon’s comments at an AI Conference. Musk had called out public transportation for being a “pain in the ass” and that you could end up sharing a ride with someone “who might be a serial killer.” This led to a series of tweets by Walker aimed at Musk, saying that Musk wanted to create a public transportation system designed for the protection of the elite. To which Musk simply responded, “You’re an idiot.”

Stop Staring at a Blank Canvas. Instead, Start Innovating like You’re SpaceX.

For most people, the beginning of a design problem is thrilling. It’s full of excitement and anticipation. You get to start with a completely blank canvas, imagining all of the wonderful things to come. The sky’s the limit. There’s just one problem — a world of infinite possibilities is actually pretty bad for creativity. We know, we know; this might sound like sacrilege to some of you. How can you possibly be creative if your wings are clipped? Shouldn’t we try to ‘think outside the box’, not shove ourselves into one? In short, the answer is no.

In my last article, I wrote about why ‘thinking outside the box’ is bad, because it implies you should forget about the constraints of your design problem. These boundaries shouldn’t be ignored; they should be embraced. They act as guardrails, preventing your designs from crashing and burning and instead keeping you on track throughout the creative process.

The best example of an innovative company embracing constraints is SpaceX. After looking over how they were able to do this, I realized that there are actually 3 superpowers that come with embracing constraints: 1) getting off to the races right away, 2) making better decisions, and 3) optimizing your time. If you’re interested in more information on these three superpowers, feel free to head back to my previous article. But if like me, you’re convinced that embracing constraints can help us be more innovative then you’re most likely asking yourself: how do I do that??

Why ‘Think Outside the Box’ Is Bad Advice

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been in a brainstorming meeting, and you’ve heard someone (usually the boss) say that everyone needs to ‘think outside the box!’ This advice is normally met with nods, yeses, and other signs of approval. And that’s because it seems to make so much sense. If you’re trying to come up with something truly innovative, then of course you shouldn’t be thinking about the problem the same way as everyone else. If you do, you’ll just end up with the same product or service as the competition. And no one wants to be a copycat when they’re trying to be innovative.

Recently this exact brainstorming scenario happened to me – even the part where I found myself nodding in approval. But the more I thought about it, the more confused I got. What exactly does this phrase ‘think outside the box’ mean? And is it actually good advice? In order to figure out this out, let’s first talk about what this phrase even means.

Think Outside the BoxPhoto by Bench Accounting via Unsplash