Elon Musk Wrongly Pooh-Poohs Process as a Substitute for Thinking
I’ve always been intrigued by entrepreneur (and billionaire) Elon Musk. He founded PayPal (which I have used for over ten years), founded SpaceX (which I would love to use, but can’t afford), and he founded Tesla, the electric car maker that’s now using the old NUMMI plant in California for assembly (meh to plug in cars, personally).
So, I had great interest this recent WIRED magazine piece: “Elon Musk’s Mission to Mars.” He said something about “process” that caught my eye and might be good to discuss here.
Being interviewed by Chris Anderson:
Anderson: So, how do you do it? What’s your process?
Musk: Now I have to tell you something, and I mean this in the best and most inoffensive way possible: I don’t believe in process. In fact, when I interview a potential employee and he or she says that “it’s all about the process,” I see that as a bad sign.
Anderson: Oh no. I’m fired.
Musk: The problem is that at a lot of big companies, process becomes a substitute for thinking. You’re encouraged to behave like a little gear in a complex machine. Frankly, it allows you to keep people who aren’t that smart, who aren’t that creative.
I really disagree with Musk when he says “process becomes a substitute for thinking.” I don’t know how many former NUMMI / Toyota managers are now working for him at Tesla, but I’m pretty sure they would disagree with him, as well.
Now, what Musk says might be true at some companies and that’s unfortunate… maybe he thinks it shouldn’t be that way.
But, when he says “[process] allows you to keep people who aren’t that smart,” maybe he is biased against process. You know, that’s for the dumb, uncreative people.
Your thoughts? What’s your experience in your organization? Are you able to combine process with creativity (and “kaizen”) in your organization? I see a lot of really smart people in healthcare using process (like Lean and checklists) to prevent errors and to provide a baseline for ongoing improvement, where everybody is creative and involved in kaizen.