The Power of Why & Commitment: Which way do you think?
If I came to you and suggested that we start a business about which I know very little, would need millions of dollars investment, delivering a product that no one has ever been able to successfully do before, it’s likely you would doubt my business sense.
And yet, that’s exactly what a South African-born entrepreneur decided to do. Twice. Simultaneously. His name? Elon Musk.
Musk is developing the use of electric power through his Tesla car company and solar projects to remove the world’s dependency on fossil fuels. Oh, and at the same time his company SpaceX is planning a human colony on Mars. Neither of these are trivial exercises and much of the technology involved has either had to be invented or still remains to be so. However, there is no doubting his commitment. This is Right-to-Left Thinking – or what we call Key Principle 2 – in action on a grand scale.
Right-to-Left Thinking is an approach that turns on its head the normal way we tackle problems. Think of a horizontal line drawn on a sheet of paper with three points on it: on the left hand end is the Past, in the centre is the Present and on the right is the Future. The usual approach when we face a challenge is to draw from our Past experience (the left), apply it in the Present, and get a likely or predictable outcome in the Future. In terms of the line on the sheet of paper, this is what we would call left-to-right thinking.
This way of tackling problems works fine when you have past experience to draw on and you’re happy with just making incremental improvements based on what’s gone before. It wouldn’t help Musk though to put a human on Mars, let alone a colony. Neither would it help him make electric cars the norm and not just a novelty. These challenges need a different approach.
Like President JF Kennedy did 54 years before him when declaring his commitment to put a man on the moon, what Musk has done is to stand in the future of the world he imagines and paint the picture so as others can share that vision. We can all visualise people being on Mars while his Tesla cars are a tangible expression of what a future with electric vehicles could look like. It’s the clarity of this picture – or Declared Outcome – combined with his commitment to achieving it that informs the actions he must take in the Present. If we go back to our line on the sheet of paper, this is moving from the right (the Future) to the Present, giving us Right-to-Left Thinking. The Past becomes less significant – and it certainly does not constrain Musk. The fact that neither of these things has been achieved before is not a factor. He’s sourcing himself from an entirely different place.
The question is, what gives him this drive? Quite simply, it’s his Why – his higher purpose or belief.
The reason that Musk does what he does is because he wants to create a sustainable future for the human race – one that is able to support generations to come. He started by asking himself what would most affect the future of humanity, and sustainable energy together with space exploration came at the top of his list. However, just being able to paint the picture of this future is not enough for Right-to-Left Thinking to work. It needs absolute commitment to the outcome: it’s not a “We’ll give it our best shot,” it’s a “We’re doing this,” unshakable stand. He is emotionally connected to the outcome – he has to be, since in many ways what he’s trying to do is not logical. Once this commitment has been made, it then has to be declared for its true power to emerge. And that’s precisely what Musk has done by telling the world and backing the projects with millions of dollars of his own money. Any observer can easily get that he means what he says.
The wonderful thing about Right-to-Left Thinking is that if the commitment to the declared outcome is strong, then knowing how to get there is less important. While Musk is an exceptionally intelligent individual, he does not know all the answers – and he doesn’t need to. His passion and conviction in why he is doing what he is doing is tangible and he has no problem attracting those who believe what he believes. It is these people who will help him bring his vision into reality. Take his SpaceX plans: Musk’s vision has already inspired the US government and NASA’s support, while there is no shortage of volunteers for the one-way trip to Mars.
Musk’s main task is to continue to hold the space where the solutions and magic can happen. For now, he seems to be doing that rather well.
Are you inspired by your Why to create the world that you imagine or are you limited by what’s gone before? Knowing your Why as a company or an individual gives you access to the true power of Right-to-Left Thinking. When held within a framework of commitment – a true conviction – it transforms possibility into reality.