I watched Elon Musk’s presentation at the 2017 TED conference the other day.

If you haven’t seen this yet, I challenge you to watch it the whole way through without your jaw dropping. In it, we learn about his plans to:

  • Build subterranean highway systems in Los Angeles on the West Coast and from New York to DC on the East Coast
  • Release a semi truck that is electric, capable of hauling incredibly heavy loads, and as nimble as a sports car
  • Create self-driving electric vehicles that would be part of a “shared autonomous fleet”
  • Outfitting homes with nearly indestructible solar roof tiles

And that’s not even getting into all the Mars stuff.

Given Elon’s track record, I wouldn’t dare label these plans a pipe dream; on the contrary, I’d say that what we have here is technology innovation at its best.

So take a seat, Apple – it’s time to (re)learn what true “innovation” is made of.
 

The common theme

At its core, each of Elon Musk’s ideas is a creative way to solve a problem. He is:

  • Alleviating horrific traffic congestion
  • Reducing global dependence on fossil fuels
  • Providing sustainable energy options at the consumer level
  • Making these sustainable energy options economical (and, in the case of the shared autonomous fleet, a potential source of income)

As Elon put it, he’s “trying to think about the future and not be sad.”
 

Apple is missing the mark here

Meanwhile, I don’t think I’m the only one who responds to Apple’s announcements with less of a “wow” and more of a “why?”

What problem does a slightly larger or slightly smaller iPhone solve? Changes to the color display? The littlest bit of additional battery life? Why do I care about these things?

And with the wireless headphones, it seems to me that we’ve actually created a new problem since these tiny little ear buds are absolutely begging to get lost.

All of these incremental changes are nice I guess… but they are not on par with Apple of days past, and they are most definitely not “innovative.”

Now, this isn’t to say that Apple is doomed as a company; you’re still going to see early adopters lining up for the latest iPhone because they need to be one of the first people on the planet to have this new product. But its market share is already on the decline, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the trend continued.
 

The key takeaway

We need to be thinking more like Elon Musk. If anything our company releases does not actively solve a problem for our customers, is it really of any value to them?

Apple can continue riding Steve Job’s coattails, but the rest of us don’t have that luxury. To delight our clients, we need to focus on how we can make their lives better. What frustrates them? What’s dragging down their productivity? What’s impacting morale across their organization? What’s distracting them from achieving their business goals?

While I probably won’t spend money on a gadget that’s a little flashier than what I already own, I will spend money on a gadget that saves me time, allows me to be more effective, or helps me stay organized.

Keep this in mind as you develop your new products and services, and heck, you might drum up some jaw-dropping innovation, too.

 

 

As originally published in the American City Business Journals

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