No, this is not another article about the life and exploits of Elon Musk. Any attempt to portray this matter better than the press already does would be, at the very least, arrogance or naivete on my part. Elon works and leads projects that, in his vision, will change the world. Somehow they are already changing. Every novelty has an effect where it appears, even when it fails, as it provokes learning that will culminate in new developments.
In the series on Netflix that portrays his mission called Inspiration 4, which takes civilians into space, he is asked why he invests in space exploration if there are many problems here on Earth. He answers, “If life is all about solving problems, then what’s the point of being alive?” In fact, that’s it! While some human beings in this world celebrate birthdays by blowing out candles or forgetting their problems with a beer at the bar, Musk, a being from another planet, when he doesn’t just want to solve problems, invents missions to space.
However, we are still here on this planet and therefore we need to deal with our context. And, that’s why this curious article keeps a reflection not on the life and exploits of Elon Musk, but on how he personifies and represents codes, information, images, messages and a culture of innovation that is pushing away or could, increasingly, more distance people from innovating than bringing them together.
We are living 2 years of an unexpected pandemic. A Qualtrics global study found that 42% of people experienced a decline in mental health. Specifically, 67% of people are experiencing increases in stress, while 57% have increased anxiety and 54% are emotionally exhausted. Also 53% of people are sad, 50% angry, 28% have difficulty concentrating, 20% taking longer to complete tasks, 15% have difficulty thinking and 12% with the challenge of balancing their responsibilities.
And in the Tupinikim lands, specifically, the story is no different. The average Brazilian happiness fell to the lowest level in 15 years in 2020. Furthermore, 64% of Brazilians want to do something different from what they do today at work and 9 out of 10 Brazilians are unhappy at work.
And even when we don’t suffer from a psychological illness, depression or something more serious, we can be in the “Languishing” state, a term brought up by Adam Grant, psychologist and thinker, to explain a state of mental inertia at work or in life, a pilot automatic that doesn’t make you want to do anything, to move, to evolve, but that isn’t necessarily a disease, it’s just a mental and energy limbo.
We receive overwhelming stimuli from innovation coming from very different realities. Silicon Valley, Israel, China, hotbeds of world innovation, have absurdly more favorable conditions for innovation, as a condition for financing startups, corporate culture and maturity of entrepreneurship. We are lagging behind in education, digital maturity, technological knowledge, information and access to the innovation ecosystem than other countries.
It is in this context that we are drowned by the flood of information and codes of innovation that are disseminated as sharp truths made only to cut through the so-called “mediocrity” in which we live. However, the demand, the information hurricane, social codes, stigmatized patterns of success on innovation keep arriving exponentially, but in corporate cultures that are cool in their speech vs. action.
Thus, we reached an unfavorable recipe for the daily lives of people and companies: excess of unbridled exhibitionism of innovation codes added to the detachment and distancing of the speeches of leaders and companies from their actions and daily realities in a pandemic moment where comparisons generate deprivation relative makes people want to leave companies or become inert, apathetic, disinterested, distant from innovation, tired of it all, a phenomenon I call ELON’S FATIGUE.
In a more colloquial summary, Elon’s Fatigue is when you are in your body, hear and see something about innovation, but instead of wanting to innovate and get energized with it, you want to hug your dog or eat a cake. cornmeal with your grandmother on a cloudy afternoon. The social codes of innovation, news, cases, contributions, workshops, all the “business bingo” of innovation, including motivational speeches from leadership, simply wear you down, tire you, push you away from innovation, more than bring you closer.
“My God, what a laziness in all this” is what I hear most from friends and co-workers. On LinkedIn I post some polls to feel the heat on some issues I want to know how people think. When asked about “When you hear/read: “Disruptive innovation, “Mission to Silicon Valley”, “The startup that raised billions”… – What do you feel?”, the average response is:
Brings me closer to innovation – 15%
Keep me away from innovation – 6%
Whatever, it doesn’t change my life – 18%
Oh my God, what a laziness! – 62%
And the question that remains is: what to do then? How can I avoid this as a professional or as a company leader?
The first factor to be taken into account is that it is impossible to deprive oneself of all information and innovation codes as they are being disseminated. It is not possible to close yourself inside a separate universe or escape from the world as it is.
As I don’t believe in recipes, nor in finite models, I would only be able to propose that the path to not being carried away by Elon’s Fatigue is a trail of experimentation. And like any experiment, we need to make some assumptions to get started and generate learning. What are the basic premises to avoid and mitigate Elon’s Fatigue:
1 – Reduce friction, build belief.
If we don’t want people to feel less able and energized to innovate, our role is to systematically reduce friction in the system. Allow more fluidity for things to happen. At startups, people feel that it is possible to make mistakes, and therefore it will be possible to innovate. Build the belief that it is possible to innovate in your company.
2 – Lighten the load, give your brain breaks.
Want to know what is the best gift a leader could give his team? Cut cognitive load, reduce workload. And that goes for you too, it reduces the workload and will have significant results, even in your productivity.
The antidote to fighting fatigue is simple: taking short breaks in addition to reducing the load, also leaves you less stressed, more able to innovate as a result.
3 – Innovation is only possible through action.
The great challenge for every leadership is to communicate the vision and belief and obtain certain behavior from the company. But what comes first, belief or behavior? Which of these has the most influence?
Behavior has the power to influence a change of belief, rather than the other way around. Walk the talk – it’s like they say, set an example, do what you say.
4 – A great talent may not be a great leader.
In many ways, there’s just one question any manager needs to ask: How do I make my team members’ lives easier – physically, cognitively and emotionally?
A Gallup poll says that only one in ten people has the necessary traits that great managers exhibit, traits that include building relationships that build trust, open dialogue and transparency.
People are also more likely to be promoted when they display self-confidence, build extensive networks, and navigate organizational politics with ease. Creating a sense of personal power and resilience can have positive results for leaders, especially if they are faced with an unchanging status quo. But this personal guidance is the opposite of what is needed to build trust. However, the self-centered approach is perpetuated by the hiring practices and performance appraisals of many organizations. Organizations that allow this dynamic to persist miss the positive side of employee satisfaction and contribute even more to generating Elon Fatigue.
5 – Learn to learn always.
If Elon’s Fatigue is in short the tiredness you get when you receive information, examples and a flood of good innovation practices, which seem to be part of a universe that has nothing to do with yours, then a good way out is try to learn anything from it. Even if it is to learn “what not to do”, we can take “stone milk” and this makes everyday life easier, more palatable to be understood. Since we cannot change the stimuli that come to us, we can change the way we respond to them.
6 – There is no doubt, but without losing confidence!
Within a large company, there are countless projects that just start, are communicated for a promotion, put into the performance review for evidence of a promotion or raise decision. After a year, the person leaves the vacancy, no one measured whether it worked, no one remembers anymore. The startup cannot make this foam, if it launches something and the customer doesn’t like it, there’s gone investment, time, resource and the customer uninstalls you. Except when the startup has already become a big company, there is no room for foam culture. There is customer focus, experimentation and learning. This is the fertile field for innovation. It usually comes loaded with autonomy, depth and purpose, which are the 3 dimensions that motivate people, according to Daniel Pink in his book Drive. They prove from several surveys that this motivates people more than money.
Therefore, it is necessary to gain confidence to doubt yourself. This is the secret.
7 – Be empathetic with others and with yourself.
Empathy is not just a cute name for a soft skill. It generates results for companies, people and business innovation. Empathy can be a powerful antidote and contribute to positive experiences for individuals and teams.
First, compare who you are today to who you were in the past. This will remind you – and allow you to feel proud – how far you’ve come. Then compare who you are today to who you hope to one day become. Because it will keep you focused on having and doing what really matters to you.
Anyway, I wish you all lots of hugs with the dog, or coffee with cornmeal cake with your grandmother, but may this be much more commonplace, natural and delicious for our human nature in the search for love and connection, than for the escape and tiredness of Elon’s fatigue.
Eduardo Paraske is co-founder of 1601, innovation consultancy