Elon Musk Just Delivered On a Bold Bet By Powering Up the World's Largest Battery

Seems like mega-entrepreneur Elon Musk is everywhere these days. I keep waiting to see him on Dancing With the Stars or show up in a role on Game of Thrones

Here’s the latest. The New York Times reported that the State of South Australia announced Friday that it had powered up the world’s biggest battery–the size of an American football field–ahead of an already ludicrously fast 100-day schedule. This timing is notable because the head of Tesla (an organization recently announced as an Inc. finalist for Company of the Year) usually doesn’t hit deadlines–even if he always seems to deliver in the end. 

The battery will store enough energy from nearby wind and solar power turbines to power 30,000 homes.

This matters because Australia has long been facing an energy crisis, with supply falling far short of demand and blackouts all too common. As a result, the cost of electricity has been spiraling out of control. South Australia has the highest energy prices in the world, producing jaw-dropping electric bills for the state’s 1.7 million residents. For perspective, Australians pay 50 to 100 percent more for power than Americans.

The ginormous battery (being hailed by some as “one of this century’s first great engineering marvels”) will provide a reserve of energy to help manage the surge demand times and create an overall more efficient power grid.

While debate rages between proponents of fossil fuels and renewable energy (the former cite the mega-battery as a publicity stunt, the latter as “the future”), one thing can’t be denied. Mr. Musk delivered on one big, hairy, audacious goal. A goal (and a bet) he made in a two-sentence tweet in March, 2017. 

Turns out Musk was chirping that he could and would build a battery that would solve South Australia’s energy problems. Fellow billionaire and Australian Mike Cannon-Brookes called him out, tweeting, “how serious are you” and stating he could deliver the money and politics end of the equation if Musk could do his part. Musk responded with the tweet below:

And in two sentences, Elon Musk had set another audacious goal for the world to see.

When I learned of this, it got me thinking about the power of setting seriously stretch goals. Neuroscience has long touted that the human brain is most creative, receptive and effective when it’s given near impossible goals and forced to innovate to achieve it. 

While Musk’s tweet was a huge PR play, it also illustrates the importance of not just dreaming big dreams, but putting specific goals behind those dreams. Musk is a master at this, but he’s not alone.

In 1974, the founder of Subway restaurants, Fred DeLuca, set an impossibly bold goal for the world (and his employees) to see. At a time before mass franchising was everywhere, with only 200 stores in tow, DeLuca set a goal of getting to 5,000, then 10,000 stores–something his employees couldn’t fathom (this proclamation was covered in an Inc. story in 1994). 

He didn’t have Twitter to proclaim his goal. So he turned to what he had to cement his commitment–the restaurant napkins, upon which he emblazoned the brash goal. 

DeLuca set this goal to stimulate creativity among his employees, creativity that would never have been kicked into gear without the goal itself.

No doubt when Musk committed via Twitter to his goal, employees were forced to up their game too.

So whether it’s big batteries or lots of five dollar foot longs, it doesn’t matter. Set a big goal and you’ll power up and energize more than just a battery–you’ll stimulate serious creativity and innovation. 

Pundits of moonshot goals would say, however, beware the crash of not actually hitting the goals or the risk of not getting employees behind them. There are several ways you can ensure employees are on board with big goals. Most importantly, ensure the employees have had an opportunity to weigh in on the creation of the goals and that the stretch goals are consistent with the purpose and mission of the company and its employees. That way, even if the goals seem nearly impossible, they are at least in line with what employees are used to (and hopefully motivated by).

While this article has offered a peek into the future, let’s end it with a glimpse at the past–a quote from Michelangelo: “The greatest danger for most of us is not that we high too high and miss it, but that we aim too low and reach it.”

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Joan Guzman