Sorry. Here I am writing about Tesla again.
I don’t even like Tesla! But damn they just make for the cleanest strategic case studies, so I can’t help it.
Elon Musk’s “secret masterplan” that got the company off the ground in the first place (and pretty much invented the electric car category) is basically the most elegant real-world strategy you’ll ever come across – and now they’ve given us another masterclass, this time in shape of their controversial new vehicle, the Cybertruck.
(It’s this thing in case you somehow missed it).
Now, unlike the masterplan, there isn’t actually a great strategy here. At least not one that I’m aware of. So no, this isn’t another textbook example of how to get competitive advantage.
Heck, it might even fail.
(Though I somewhat doubt it).
No, the Cybertruck demonstrates something deeper and more interesting than mere strategy fundamentals.
It demonstrates just how much more room there is for doing things differently than we ever even consider.
Think about it like this:
Most cars (and indeed every other type of product or service) are 95% identical. Innovation and differentiation takes place in the remaining 5%, but on all the stuff that comes “before” that, they are aligned.
- Same basic structure
- Same materials
- Same visual language
Now, the reason it happens this way is because we believe that the 95% of “agreed-on” characteristics are that way because they must be. They are non-negotiables. We don’t think about changing them because such a change would be stupid, or impossible.
But this is a lie.
The truth is that most of our assumptions on how things “must be” in a given category are just that: assumptions. Based on nothing more than what has gone before, coupled with our own lack of imagination.
If we were look again, and address the category from first principles, we’d find that the “locked-in” characteristics of a category aren’t 95% fixed. They’re more like 50% fixed.
The wiggle room for change is FAR greater than we think.
And the Cybertruck is an example of this.
This is why it looks so bloody weird. Because Musk and his team were prepared to question stuff which the entire rest of the industry took for granted.
One example is the material the car is made of: stainless steel. This requires an entirely different method of construction than on ordinary cars (hence the “flatness”), but was chosen due to its superior strength, the additional space it affords inside the vehicle… and the neat bonus that it’s bulletproof.
Did any other car brands ever consider using this material?
No, because it’s “not what cars are made of”.
But who says?
The point here is not that this is necessarily a good idea – or that the Cybertruck is even a good car. It could be a total flop, doesn’t really matter.
What matters is that it provides a demonstration of what you can do if you look at a category with naive eyes. With a child’s eyes even – which is appropriate, given that the Cybertruck itself was inspired by one of Musk’s kids asking “why doesn’t the future look like the future?”.
Look at your product.
Look at your service.
Look at your category.
Look at all of the pieces.
Look at all of the characteristics.
Look at all of the commonalities.
And for each one of them ask: why?
Why does it have to be this way? Why was it done this way in the first place? Whose choice was this? Is this actually necessary? What if it was different? Why not?
Doing this – breaking our deeply furrowed thought patterns – is extraordinarily hard, which is why I have such respect for what Tesla have done.
They’ve demonstrated just how much uncharted territory there is on the other side of our assumptions.