I’ll admit it: I have a huge man-crush on Elon Musk. I like everything this guy does. From his passion for space exploration and madcap vision of a one way trip to Mars, to his recent announcements about building both flying and submerisble cars, Elon is the very eptimony of a swashbuckling hero for the modern age. He’s also a South African – land of my birth too. Yet, in between the media hyped pronouncements there is some serious thought going on about the future shape of the world. Every industry he touches he also changes.
Yesterday, Elon’s electric sports car company, Tesla, announced that it will release all its patents to the world for free. Now anyone can build an electric car like they have.
There is some sanity behind this madness. In order for Tesla to grow now it really does need an entire electric car around it. Elon has seen that instead of protecting the slice of the pie he currently has (which is quite big), it’s going to be better for him to build a bigger pie. I think he’s spot on. Too many businesses spend too much time and effort protecting their piece of a pie, rather than building the pie. Lesson #1 right there.
But the bigger lesson, and the more important issue for everyone else is that Elon and Tesla understand that we’re increasingly living in a world where information is no longer power and everyone will know everything anyway. Many industries are currently built on what I call “knowledge arbitrage”: you and your company know things that other people (very often including your customers) don’t. By 2020, this will not be true. Good examples include investment banking, financial planners, pharmaceuticals and law firms.
What would your industry look like if everyone knew everything that everybody else did? What would your business model look like if it could not be based on having a corner on a set of information no-one else has? How would you add value to your clients if they already know everything you know? You may not need the answer to these questions this year, but you will need them by 2020. So you might as well start now.
Elon Musk is already one step ahead of you.