Elon Musk and the stored sunlight experience

Over the past weeks, there has been a lot of excitement about the unveiling of the Tesla Model 3. But almost exactly one year ago, the car maker’s CEO made another game-changing announcement.

On April 30, 2015 Elon Musk introduced the Powerwall, a home battery system that charges using electricity generated from solar panels (or when utility rates are low) and powers your home in the evening.

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Although there was nothing really revolutionary about the lithium-ion battery technology that Tesla showed off, Musk delivered a memorable pitch. His presentation changed the public’s perception of batteries — similar to when Steve Jobs talked about a new laptop, or introduced the iPhone. And he thoughtfully applied Simon Sinek’s golden circle principle.

As I described in an earlier post on this blog, Sinek’s message is as simple as it is powerful: People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. That’s why great leaders always start with the WHY, before they talk about the HOW, and the WHAT.

Let’s have a look at the video and do a bit of analysis on the Tesla Energy keynote…

  • Musk starts his presentation with reminding the audience about how today’s power is generated. Showing an image of burning fossil fuels, he tells the people in the room that: “This is how it is today. It is pretty bad. Actually it sucks…” and supports his statement by facts and figures about C02 concentration in the atmosphere. Isn’t this a direct — and memorable — way of saying what’s wrong and WHY things needs to change urgently?
  • Then, before disclosing anything about his company’s actual product, he explains why today’s electricity grid is not properly working, and evangelizes the HOW — a vision of a world powered by “this handy fusion reactor in the sky, called the sun” and “that one red pixel, that is the size of the batteries needed to bring the United States to have no fossil fuel generated electricity.” Two high-impact metaphors that describe how simple and compact a solution to being solar with batteries could be.

Of course there’s still one small matter that needs to be solved: “The issue with existing batteries is that they suck. They’re really horrible. They look like that. They’re expensive. They’re unreliable. They’re sort of stinky, ugly, bad in every way, very expensive – you have to combine multiple systems – there’s no integrated place you can go and buy a battery that just works…”

  • And finally, only after more than 6 minutes, the keynote speaker comes up with WHAT people will be able to buy: “That’s the mission piece. That’s the thing that’s needed to have a proper transition to a sustainable energy world… This is a product we call the Tesla Powerwall.”

Particularly for this kind of groundbreaking technology innovation, it may be important to give evidence that you’re not just showing slideware.

  • Musk does that by zooming in on a camera feed of the event venue’s power meter. And by observing that “the grid it’s actually zero. This entire night has been powered by batteries. Not only that, the batteries were charged by the solar panels on the roof of this building. So, this entire night, everything you’re experiencing is stored sunlight.”

In yet another post on this blog about storytellers, storydoers and storymakers, I wrote that only great personalities are able to combine these three roles. They not only have great ideas, but they also have the capabilities to execute them and engage their audience — and as such create or change an industry. If you ask me, Elon Musk is certainly one of them.

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