The Silliest Thing We Can Imagine

Elon Musk decided to test his revolutionary Falcon Heavy rocket with the “silliest thing we can imagine”. Usually test payloads for new rockets are made of boring hunks of steel and concrete, but if Elon’s past actions are any indication –see his Boring Company branded flamethrower— normal just wouldn’t do. So Musk tweeted out this ‘silly’ idea: “Payload will be my midnight cherry Tesla Roadster playing Space Oddity”.

The destination for his Tesla Roadster: Mars orbit. The FAA approved the payload on February 2nd – their payload authorization showing ‘Tesla Roadster’; a decidedly-odd cargo for a spacecraft which will usually carry practical cargo like satellites.

Launching something revolutionary into space requires a serious commitment to revolutionary thinking on Earth. As a key element of his success, Musk has been known to bring a unique perspective, management style, and brand of communication to every project he embarks on. A previously unpublished company-wide email, released just recently, gives insight into Musk’s unique leadership philosophy:

Subject: Communication Within Tesla

There are two schools of thought about how information should flow within companies. By far the most common way is chain of command, which means that you always flow communication through your manager. The problem with this approach is that, while it serves to enhance the power of the manager, it fails to serve the company…

Instead of a problem getting solved quickly, where a person in one dept talks to a person in another dept and makes the right thing happen, people are forced to talk to their manager…

Anyone at Tesla can and should email/talk to anyone else according to what they think is the fastest way to solve a problem for the benefit of the whole company.

Musk’s beliefs on communication, however, don’t just apply to electric sports cars with a ‘ludicrous mode’, or to roadsters heading to Mars with a mannequin in the driver’s seat. In taking a progressive stance on how information should flow within a team, Musk also gives us a point a view that can be applied to the TMF.

An inefficient and stifling hierarchy is a common problem among TMF teams. Distracted by an ever-growing array of new tools and technologies, TMF leaders neglecting the most essential component of the TMF: their TMF team. Because of this single-minded focus on new features and technology, TMF stakeholders continue to experience a widening gap between TMF expectations and reality and the continued erosion of their decision-making abilities. Slowly, but surely, TMF stakeholders are becoming disenfranchised from their own TMF.

So, inspired by Musk’s philosophy, now is the time to reevaluate the strength of the human network supporting your TMF. Is your team inspired to speak up if there is a problem? Will your team speak out if more clarification is needed, or is your team constantly second-guessing and waiting for your approval? Is the leadership of your TMF focused on big-picture success or mired in micromanagement? The answers to these questions are of critical importance to the success of your TMF.

If you are a TMF leader, take a moment to evaluate where your enthusiasm is invested. A revolutionary TMF leader will be as excited about their team as they are about new technology. Investment in the knowledge and decision-making of the TMF team will have a greater impact than any single piece of software or technology, and is usually a whole lot cheaper too.

But, even, with Elon Musk, every new idea brings with it the risk of failure. SpaceX claimed, in April 2011, that the Falcon Heavy would be ready for launch in 2013. It took five extra years to overcome the unexpected engineering challenges, with several notable explosions in-between. Even with the successful launch of the Falcon Heavy, and although the two boosters landed in astounding harmony, the center core smashed into the ocean at three hundred miles per hour. Even the Tesla Roadster overshot Mars orbit and is heading towards the asteroid belt.

From these very public failures, it is clear that even the greatest of accomplishments don’t necessarily mean perfection. In light of this reality, we fully recognize that revolutionizing the human network of the TMF is challenging. Still, despite the obstacles, the potential benefits of a reimagined TMF are critical to the future of drug development. Because of the importance of the mission, there is simply no reason to settle for anything less than unusual excellence. If the Falcon Heavy launch proves anything, it proves this: behind every once-impossible triumph is someone who dared to dream the silliest things imaginable.