Lessons

3 Insights From Elon Musk's Chief Automotive Designer You Can Apply to Life and Business

The Tesla is the biggest automotive innovation since the Model T but it was designed using tried-and-true processes that would have been familiar to Henry Ford.
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5 min read
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Tesla has disrupted the automotive market and helped shift major carmakers towards producing electric vehicles at an accelerated pace. The company always seems to be up to something innovative, like it's newest announcement about an electric pickup truck to be released sometime in 2020 or thereabouts.

You always hear Elon Musk’s name when people talk about these developments, but one of the major keys to all that success is the unique car design of the company’s Chief Automotive Designer Franz von Holzhausen. He designed the Model S starting in 2008.

While you will probably never design a car, you can apply the principles von Holzhausen used in designing an electric vehicle from scratch to design your life as well. Read on to learn more about the principles used by the man who created something so new and innovative yet still heavily steeped in old school appeal.

Related: 24 Weird Things We've Learned About Elon Musk

1. Efficiency In Planning

It only took Tesla around eight months to release the Model S prototype in 2009 after announcing it. This is a process that takes years for most carmakers. Sure, there were a lot of sleepless nights, but Von Holzhausen and his team are said to have also streamlined their approach to maximize results and avoid wasting time on what they felt were unnecessary steps.

You can take this approach to your work projects. Here are some areas you can start with.

Focus: Science shows that multi-tasking kills productivity. So, avoid it. Cut down distractions, isolate yourself and focus on one task at a time. Employ tools that aid you in this, but mind how they drag your attention away. These can detract as much as help.

Delegation: Taking on too many tasks does not lead to efficient work. It creates a stressed worker who refuses to let go of projects and burns out. People in positions of power often break this rule and, worse yet, expect the same from those who want to move up in the world. A true leader understands when to hand stuff off to a team and when to stay out of their way. If you remain so involved in a project that you might as well do it yourself, you haven’t properly delegated.

Track your time: If pressed, can you give an accurate measurement of how much time you spend being productive versus wasting time? Keeping track of your time spent working versus being “busy” could enlighten you as to where you are truly investing yourself. To be efficient, you need to plan activities and projects. Set a time for a task, say a phone call, and end it on time. If you cannot complete the work on time, schedule more time tomorrow and keep that in mind in the future when allotting time for projects.

Downtime: Despite what many career-driven people think, all work with no downtime does not equal more productivity. Your body needs rest and time away from work to recharge and attack each day anew.

Related: 8 Great Time-Tracking Apps for Freelancers

2. Mind the details

Von Holzhausen’s approach zeroes in on details other car manufacturer’s take for granted to capitalize on areas often overlooked. He focused on the door handle, for example, changing the design to improve the first contact a driver has with the car.

Thorough completion of a task requires you to give every aspect of the project some level of solid attention, regardless of how small. What’s the “door handle” in your current project? As you work, you may discover certain parts require more attention. Your focus may shift, but remember to go back and attend to everything else too.

What does attention to detail look like during and after a project?

It usually shows up as precise, consistent results on everything you need to report, while giving something to interested parties in a form they can use. You can do this using a schedule, with help from checklists and shared calendars. This helps prevent small details from falling into cracks. This level of attention also lets you monitor the specifics and quality of work, all while providing an avenue for expressing concerns and making course corrections.

Finally, it frees you to work unsupervised as your results give supervisors confidence in your skills.

Related: Why Billionaires Focus on the Smallest Details

3. Try something new

When von Holzhausen moved from Mazda to Tesla, he made a choice many experts questioned. Leaving an established automobile manufacturer took him off the road to the top, according to traditional thinking.

Instead of staying safe, he took a chance on a company many thought would go under before it made good on any of its future promises. That choice set him on a different path, which led him to incredible results.

You may not have the option of changing careers or employers, but you can employ new approaches to the same effect. This can mean something as simple as changing your work environment through either rearranging things or working someplace different altogether. Your team can make use of technology it didn’t have before.

If you are the project lead and recently learned some new management tricks, try them out to see what works. Try testing team member skills in areas outside of their normal areas of focus.

Knowing where your “box” is can help you examine new ways to work both inside and outside of it. Von Holzhausen didn’t invent entirely new ways to design cars; he changed venues and explored new ideas in design approaches he already understood. He used new technology to complete the same processes more efficiently.
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