What matters is the pace of innovation. That is the fundamental determinant of competitiveness.Elon Musk – during Tesla Q1 2018 earnings call
In a recent post I wrote about SCAMPER, a proven idea generating technique. In this post, I am going to examine ways we can apply SCAMPER to come up with the kinds of innovation we see at Tesla.
S is for SUBSTITUTE
Substitute: Electric for Internal combustion engines
This is really the raison d’être of the company. Elon Musk looked at the automotive landscape and decided that the carbon produced by internal combustion engines (ICEs) was endangering the planet and humanity as a species. Elon asked if cars could be made to operate on electricity alone without feeling like golf carts. The first Tesla, the original roadster, was proof that an electric car could be desirable.
C is for COMBINE
Combine: One big window
The Tesla Model X windshield and sunroof are combined into one continuous piece of glass. The effect is like being in a fighter plane, although the company was later forced to make sunshades available due to glare.
A is for ADAPT
Adapt: Over the air updates
Adapting a technique from the computer industry (of which Elon was once a captain, being a founder of PayPal), Tesla updates its cars’ software over the air, avoiding the need to bring the car into a dealership or use a CD or SD card to update. These updates have done everything from improving functionality and creature comforts, but also improved safety by improving braking distances by downloading revisions to the ABS control software.
M is for MODIFY/MAGNIFY/MINIFY
Elon likes to break down questions to their essence. When asking why lithium batteries were so expensive, he assessed the cost of materials (which were not dramatically high) and the cost of production. It was the latter that was preventing electric propulsion from being economically viable. Thus the big bet on gigafactories which produce unprecedented quantities of electric cells and battery packs, using the economies of scale to address the cost or production.
Minify: Small body panels
Tesla has taken a lot of criticism for building its Model 3 body out of more parts than comparable vehicles are made out of. Tesla has always rushed its cars to market, attempting to outrun the impact of large investments by building in volume. I suspect this means that some cars, the Model 3 in particular, were being assembled before every configuration had been designed completely, e.g. the all-wheel variant. Given the cost of building the facilities to stamp out large pieces of metal, and the cost of changing your mind later on when the design of the car evolves, and the possible cost of throwing away unused stampings because of changes to the design, to me it seems prudent that the company built cars out of smaller-than-normal parts.
minify: Building cars in a tent
This is another move by Tesla that caused some mockery. They actually started building cars in a large tent outside their existing factory. Like the small body panels example above, I see this as a flexibility play. By using a tent, they minimized their investment, both in time and money, to get an enlarged facility up and running.
P is for PUT TO ANOTHER USE
Put to another use: Using cameras to turn on windshield wipers
Both the Model S and the Model X use a dedicated rain sensor to turn on the cars’ wipers automatically when the going got wet. New Model 3 owners were surprised and disappointed to see this feature deleted from their cars. Later on, however, they found that automatic wipers were back on the menu. Instead of using a dedicated sensor, this feature put the cameras in the vehicle to another use – detecting rain.
Put to another use: Dog Mode
Leaving a pet in your car is generally a bad idea if the weather is too hot or cold for the furry friend to be safe and comfortable. Leaving your gas-powered car running is unsafe and in many jurisdictions forbidden. An electric car, on the other hand, can use its battery and climate control to keep fluffy happy. This puts the battery to another use – not just for propulsion but to create a comfortable pet habitat. They even put the large flat screen in the dashboard to another use – displaying a message to say that the pet inside is being cared for and what the inside temperature of the car is.
E is for ELIMINATE
The Tesla Model 3 is conspicuously absent the dials and buttons one would expect in a modern automobile. All information from the car, even it’s speed, is displayed in a single central screen. The screen is used for climate control, seat control, etc. Even the glove box is opened from the display.
This is also a great example of “put to another use” since it reuses the central display. I have wrestled with this apparent lack of rigour. In the end I have accepted the fact that it doesn’t matter how you arrive at an idea. If there are two triggers that get the same beneficial conclusion, so be it. I have learned to relax and love the SCAMPER.
ELIMINATE: dealer network
In order to focus on building cars, and taking advantage of the fact that electric cars need less routine maintenance than ICE cars, Tesla decided to forgo the usual arrangement of assembling a franchise dealer network, reducing costs and getting to market sooner.
R is for REVERSE/REARRANGE
rearrange: Falcon wing Doors
The Tesla Model X SUV features unconventional “falcon wing” rear passenger doors which not only lift up like a gull-wing door but also fold near the middle which makes it possible open in tight proximity to walls and other vehicles.
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Click here to get your free downloadable guide to the SCAMPER’s 7 Powerful Idea Generators, which includes seven examples of idea generation involving Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Delicious!