Why do the winners (Amazon, Steve Jobs’ era Apple) seem to look so smart and the losers (Snapchat, Macy’s, etc.) look so dumb in arrears? Case example after case example reveals seemingly magical predictive qualities by the winners and seemingly obvious misses by the losers. What is an obvious, yet oft overlooked, reason is the winners run on organizing principles and the losers run on a “reaction-to-circumstances” mentality. Losers chase opportunity. Winners create opportunity from their governing principles. Tesla is the current shining example.
Early on in Elon Musk’s life he studied the state of the world and recognized the sea change required to mitigate the risk associated with our waning and antiquated energy resources. Electricity is a sustainable energy if harvested and harnessed wisely.
Downstream of this thought process has influenced everything else Musk does, from solar panels to semi-trucks, transportation in general, to survival on planet earth and/or on Mars. These seemingly disparate efforts are all related because of the organizing principle driving answers. The principle is about asking “what’s next.” As result Tesla isn’t just an electric car. It’s an entirely different platform. This is fundamentally why the cars are an aesthetic win and they perform better, and have left everyone else playing catch up. The rest of the industry was built on the existing platform that dates back to Henry Ford, making the current hybrid and electric cars fundamentally the same as Henry Ford’s Model T, but with different power plants. Tesla in contrast is not necessarily a car company at all, but more of an "energy company" that makes cars.
When we all stand back and look at Tesla, it looks revolutionary because it is, but the concept of the car in total isn’t the stroke of genius. The organizing principle is the genius. This is what most companies either neglect or don’t understand. If you don’t have a fundamental driver of your thinking then consistency, breakthrough ideas, disruption, and loyalty are all but impossible. You can chase opportunity for a while, but to sustain success over time requires principles.