Last week I had the pleasure of listening in on an interview with Jon  McNeill, COO of Lyft at Innovation Leaders in Cambridge. A serial entrepreneur by nature McNeill's career is anchored around innovation. His fundamental belief is...

"Innovation starts with finding unsolved problems." 

Sometimes this mindset shift needs to come from outside the industry.  McNeill stepped into the automotive sector taking a role with Elon Musk after building a significant track record as an entrepreneur in the Boston area.  As a former business owner, I genuinely agree with Musk's assertion that "something changes in your DNA when you have to make payroll, and you may not."  This pressure breeds an ingenuity that can help small businesses soar, or crush pontentially your soul. The goal is obviously the former and not the later.  

McNeill​ spent over two and a half years working at Tesla and the values or principals of that workplace culture centered around:

  • the belief that we could all die tomorrow
  • the pursuit of perfection
  • the desire to find the best talent in the world

The first point might resonate if you are a fan of Sun Tzu's The Art of War.  This book stresses that you should treat each and every day as if it were your last.  And while we all want to be perfect, right, what happens when perfection gets in the way of delivering your product on time? Striving towards impossibly high goals​ can lead to perfection paralysis.  The topic I'd like to spend a bit of time on today is talent. 

Musk has 25 direct reports in his reporting chain, and at one point slept for weeks on the factory floor to solve a manufacturing issue.  He was literally camping out in a conference room, and one day Musk had a mid-morning coffee revelation around the physical space optimization of the plant so he started manufacturing in 3D and created vertical components to the assembly line.  Living in the factory prompted spontaneous innovation which will hopefully inspire you next time you pull an all nighter. 

My favorite part of McNeill's talk was Musk's killer interview question when he interviewed McNeill, "tell me about the meaning of your work?" Assuming Musk is a fan of Simon Sinek, getting to your why is a prompt that is essential to the interview process of any business. 

The notion of finding your meaning actually explains the underlying motivation of Logan Green and John Zimmer, the founders of Lyft. They are driven by the fact that if you live within a kilometer of a freeway you are 66 percent more likely to die of lung cancer.  Lyft's focus on micro mobility is centered around the goal of getting cars off the road.  How's that for a value proposition? 

Having traversed different industries through his career, the three keys to McNeill's start-up success orient around his ability to do the following very well

identify an opportunity (white space)

act with speed (agile methodology)

scale it (land and expand)

Sounds easy right?  It's all about the execution.

Published on: Oct 30, 2018
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