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Published on October 16th, 2017 | by Matthew Klippenstein


We Need To Learn From Wrestling. Yes. (Cleantech Talk #36)

October 16th, 2017 by  

You can listen to this episode and subscribe to Cleantech Talk on iTunes or Soundcloud. You can also listen via the embedded player above or download this episode. Jump into the show notes below for more goodies.

Cleantech Talk starts off this week with a clip from professional wrestler Daniel “The Progressive Liberal” Richards. (The clip played on the show starts at the 0:27 mark from this YouTube video.)

Daniel “The Progressive Liberal” Richards modelling Matthew’s new favourite shirt ever.

The Progressive Liberal is a villain who riles up red-state crowds by reciting liberal talking points (including some cleantech ones!) in a tone-deaf, unempathetic, arrogant way. The gimmick works because the poorer, less educated, rural types in the Appalachians suspect — or have direct experience of — wealthier, economically secure, urban and urbane city-dwellers looking down on them contemptuously.

We cleantech fans and advocates need to avoid becoming that too-easy-to-demonize caricature!

As low-brow and uncouth as it may be to learn from professional wrestling, the lesson is that tone-deaf idealists make natural villains. We’ll befriend more people, faster, if we start off empathizing with their life situation, rather than evangelizing our enthusiasm for our vision of the future.

If we’ve proven ourselves worthy of their confidence and trust, we can flip their (probably justified) suspicions around.

The blunt truth is that there are wealthier, economically secure, urban and urbane city-dwellers who look down on coal communities contemptuously: the coal mine owners and their lickspittle free-market ideologues. These are the people who have ignored worker safety while trying to silence critics, practiced regulatory capture, raided pension funds, ravaged communities, and no doubt a thousand and one other things we haven’t heard about, benefiting the few at the expense of the many.

This is probably a no-brainer for most readers, who already practice this strategy, and will no doubt deploy it again this Thanksgiving. I just wanted to make a point of it, because about 10 years ago, I was one of the slow learners in my social networks complaining that Canadians who supported then–Prime Minister Stephen Harper (a Conservative) needed to smarten up because … they were voting against their economic interests. I didn’t have the discipline to be willing to put myself in my erstwhile opponents’ shoes, to figure out how to convince them that we were ultimately on the same side. And if a few of you youngsters out there — those of you who never suffered the indignity of dial-up internet — can avoid making my ancient mistakes, I’ll have done my part!

As discussed in the episode, US EV market share is about 1%, EV+hybrid market share is about 3%, and the Ford F-series market share is a bit short of 5%. In the next few months, whenever my more conservative-leaning friends bring the Tesla Model 3 up in conversation, I’m going to namedrop the plug-in Ford F-150 as an experiment to see if that changes how they view electric vehicles. I’ll report back in several episodes’ time to tell you how that experiment goes!

e-Bikes, Part Deux

Nicolas Zart’s review of the GoCycle G3 was also discussed on this episode. The website for VeloMetro — the Vancouver-based velocycle company I mentioned in this segment — is here. (Velocycles are covered / enclosed bicycles.)

The great hope for these products is that they grow the number of cyclists, since the purists will probably scoff at them. In North America, the percentage of people who cycle around town is pretty low, so we might as well classify them as “early adopters.” One of the lessons of Geoffrey Moore’s seminal Crossing The Chasm is that what the early majority wants is generally different from what early adopters want. Which means that if the G3 or VeloMetro Veemo generate backlash … that could counter-intuitively be a promising thing! (Per Crossing The Chasm, if early adopters like those products … then the early majority probably won’t.)

This is relevant when discussing the merits of fully electric cars (BEVs) versus plug-in hybrids (PHEVs). A study by Simon Fraser University in Canada showed that, while early adopters somewhat favoured BEVs over PHEVs, mainstream buyers overwhelmingly preferred PHEVs — if they were willing to consider electric vehicles at all. (I covered that in a piece for GreenCarReports a couple years back, here.) We early adopters may want people to shift towards BEVs, but in the near term, our best bet for de-funding Saudi Aramco, ExxonMobil, and other ne’er-do-wells may be to focus on PHEVs.

Dunder Mifflin’s Michael Scott is not a positive role model

Paging Michael Scott…

On the podcast I mentioned a feud between Zachary and Bertel Schmitt, so as a courtesy to Z, I won’t link to the Daily Kanban story. [Editor’s note: I have no problem with the article or linking to their work, so here it is. I just don’t appreciate the way they often mislead and try to negatively spin stuff, which they did to a small extent in that piece, but mostly avoided and stuck to providing a summary of the Model 3 production timeline and key Elon Musk quotes.—Zach]

While Bertel is regarded as something of a Beelzebub figure around these parts, when one of my engineering contracts finished and I was scouting for work, he got me a job offer at a zealotously pro-EV automaker not named Tesla. Which is a pretty fricking amazing thing to do for a total stranger who emails you asking if you have any auto industry contacts. For those of you who follow Game of Thrones, you know how you’re led to believe some characters are absolute villains, and it’s not until much, much later that you realize maybe they’re not all bad? I’d suggest Bertel and Ed Niedermeyer are in that category. I’d also suggest that no one should change their minds just based on what I think!

The key quotation from the recent Daily Kanban story is:

The mismatch between Tesla’s ambitious guidance and underwhelming performance, as well as its aggressive attempts to discredit any reporter attempting to add to the public’s understanding of the situation, turned a wholly unsurprising production ‘hiccup’ into a full-blown controversy.

There’s a saying in politics that goes along the lines of, “it’s not the facts that break you; it’s the spin that does you in.” Tesla’s production ramp-up is a perfect example.

It would have been sufficient for Elon to come out and say, “yeah, we’re late; sorry guys, my bad.” Saying that low Model 3 production was due to “production bottlenecks” when parts of the production line are still in Detroit (a claim verified by staff at Tesla and the supplier, which Tesla’s communications group hasn’t explicitly rebutted) was the spin that “did the company in,” for a couple news cycles. We all know about “Elon Standard Time,” so Tesla admitting they’re behind their hyper-aggressive production plans wouldn’t be a big deal — we’ve all factored it in! The unnecessary overreach is what caused this whole distraction.

As it happens, on Friday afternoon, it was reported that Tesla had laid off 400 to 700 employees. It’s well known that bad news is often disclosed on Friday afternoons, because by the time Monday has rolled around, new headlines will have pushed the old ones out of the way. (This is all the more ruefully true in the Trump era.)

There’s nothing newsworthy about a layoff. These things happen. The story would have been a hiccup. Except … according to the article, Tesla said the layoffs were part of a performance review process, and that other employees got promotions and bonuses. That unnecessary information turns it into a potential controversy, and is like scoring an own-goal in the World Cup Finals. “Billionaire company owner fires blue-collar worker who claims good performance record” is a headline that writes itself. So are “Company fires hundreds during unionization push” and “Worker claims Tesla fired them because they’re pro-union.” With 400+ people suddenly jobless, it’s statistically inevitable a few people will contact the media to tell their side of the story. It’s a distraction that no one needs.

About the only thing worse would be if Elon forged ahead and said that the layoffs improved worker morale … which he also did! (Sure, the information came from Tesla, but we all know that was pure Elon. No HR or communications professional would ever dare write that.) Like many people, I’ve been on the surviving and, uh, not-so-surviving end of layoffs. They don’t improve morale any more than the old Roman practice of decimating legions did. This, too, feeds the media beast — reporters can now challenge Tesla to come up with employees whose morale improved, or who received promotions or bonuses. Worse still, refusing to admit that layoffs lower morale is going to improve the odds employees both reach out to the media and form a union, because rank-and-file workers will be furious the company is trying to gloss over the real and inevitable effects layoffs have on morale. This elevates the faux pas to an own-goal hat trick in the World Cup Final.

In a sense, this latest brouhaha leads us back to Daniel “The Progressive Liberal” Richards. People who doggedly push a message without investing the time to build empathy with an audience are easily perceived as villains, even if they have the best of intentions, and even if they’re factually correct. It’s not my place to advise Tesla’s management, but from my worm’s-eye view, it sure looks like a polite refresher might be helpful.

In the meanwhile, we can at least offer up a positive example. Even if it doesn’t affect Tesla’s chosen course, it will at least help us better serve our broader, cleaner, more prosperous cause. 😀

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About the Author

Matthew Klippenstein is a renewable energy consultant in Vancouver, Canada. He has chronicled the Canadian electric car market for since 2013, and has provided commentary (in English and French) for print, television, radio, web and podcast media. An early guest on "The Energy Transition Show", his work has also been discussed on "The Energy Gang". An occasional contributor to CleanTechnica, he co-hosts our own CleanTech Talk with Nicolas Zart.

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