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 need 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.

The golden circle

It’s Mobile World Congress time again. And although this is probably my busiest work week of the year, I’m taking some time, again, to write a post about my experiences at Barcelona’s mega(lomaniac) telecom event.

Two years ago, I reported on the many executive storytellers, storydoers and storymakers that meet here each February to evangelize and promote their companies, products and services, and last year about all the demonstrators and exhibitors at el meu circ a Barcelona that systematically use too many acronyms, show too many implementation details, and push their products instead of listening to their customers.

Here’s a probably shocking message for all those enthusiastic, booth duty doing engineers,  marketers and sales guys: most visitors don’t care about your products! (except for your Chinese competitors of course, but these aren’t exactly the people you don’t want to share too much information with, or do you?)

If you started wondering what “the golden circle” has to do with this (no, it is neither an opium-producing area or an obscure oriental sect,) watch this famous TED talk in which UK born author Simon Sinek discusses how great leaders inspire action.

I strongly believe that the golden circle is a key to successful storytelling, and as a consequence to a successful product demonstration, and hopefully also to a successful business transaction

Sinek’s message is simple: “Always build your story from the inside out, starting with the WHY.” Initiate a conversation with your audience by talking about what keeps them awake at night. Give them a reason for taking the time to listen to your exposition and watch your demonstration.

golden_circle

What I witness here on the MWC exhibition floor, however, is that most vendors communicate about the solutions they sell by starting with the “WHAT.” They elaborate in detail about the many features and implementation details of their products, and then eventually (if they haven’t run out of time, or lost their client’s attention by then) work their way back to talk about “HOW” and “WHY” their stuff does what it does.

So, here’s the – IMHO – right order for conducting a conversation with your customers in spe. Tell them consecutively:

  1. WHY they should listen to you. Start a conversation about what matters most to them, help them understand their problem, and create an urgency in decision-making.
  2. HOW your product/service/solution contributes to solving their problem. Talk about the process improvements, the cost savings, the revenue opportunities it may bring.
  3. WHAT scenario or features you will show them during the demo, and what they can actually buy from you.

Simon Sinek says: “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” For similar reasons, most trade fair visitors don’t care about your products; they are looking for a solution to their problem or for opportunities to create new business.

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