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  • James Lord

Proximity Matters

It seems crazy that in today’s world, you can’t like parts of something without being labeled. People are either far-right-winged or far-left-winged. You either absolutely love Donald Trump, or you despise him. For some reason, we’re incapable of being somewhere in the middle these days, which is unfortunate because, from a leadership perspective, there is so much we can learn if we can pay close attention to both sides of an argument without bias.

As a huge fan of Elon Musk, naturally, I couldn’t wait to read his new biography, written by Walter Isaacson. I’ve been criticized for being an Elon Musk fan, but as I described above, you can be a fan of something or someone without being wholly aligned and in agreement with every life decision that person has ever made. If you put emotions and biased feelings aside for a moment, this book takes a deep dive into the genius that is Elon Musk. It contains leadership nuggets we can all learn from.

Without giving any spoiler alerts, I’ll focus on just one leadership philosophy that is captured several times in this book. Musk firmly believes that we build better products more efficiently when designers and engineers cohabitate with the manufacturing teams. Musk has created the most valuable car company in the world by refining every part of the manufacturing process at Tesla because those who design the car work side by side with those who assemble the car. Together, these teams look for ways to shave pennies in cost or milliseconds from assembly time in order to create the most efficient car-building process possible. In fact, Musk believes in this philosophy so much that when he was about to build a new EV plant in Mexico to begin manufacturing his new Robo-Taxi and affordable $24k Tesla at scale, he realized that none of his existing Tesla designers & engineers would want to relocate to Mexico, so he decided to build the plant in Texas instead. Elon opted for more expensive manufacturing costs because he understood the value of cohabitating his developers with his manufacturing crew.

We saw the opposite of this philosophy play out this year with Anheuser Bush. What was once America’s favorite beer company has eroded into a disjointed company that lost its identity and lost sight of its customers. While the company’s executive team sat in St. Louis, their marketing team was in New York City. One could argue that the distance between who Budweiser was and who they were trying to become was lost in the distance between Missouri and New York.

Musk’s leadership principles prevent this mistake from happening. I’m proud to work in an environment with developers, product managers, engineers, sales, service, and implementation staff all under the same roof. We build products only after we’ve done focus groups with clients and prospects. We do frequent sprint reviews to gain valuable insight from the people who will use, implement, and service the products we’re building.

No company is perfect – Including Elon Musk’s Tesla, SpaceX, Neuralink, or the Boring Company. But it’s very apparent that you’ll have a competitive advantage with your products if you believe in the same leadership principle as Musk – those who design the products must be close to those who build them.

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