Former Tesla “Director of Learning” On Overcoming Cultural Inertia

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Originally published on EV Annex.
By Charles Morris

Alongside the electromobility and renewable energy revolutions, there’s a major shift going on in the computer industry: the transition to cloud-based infrastructure. Revolutions always encounter resistance, and many of the problems that are slowing down the inevitable migration of applications to the cloud will sound quite familiar to those of us struggling to accelerate the adoption of EVs.

Beth Loeb Davies, the former Director of Learning at Tesla (and now the host of the Career Curves podcast), gave a talk at the recent Digital Adoption Summit, in which she discussed some of the strategies Tesla used to break down resistance to technological innovation. (Her insights are summarized in a recent article in InformationWeek.)

Every would-be innovator soon comes to understand the importance of getting users to support a new technology (“achieving buy-in from stakeholders,” if you must). “You can have the best tech innovation, but if people don’t adopt it or support it, it will fail,” says Davies.

This dynamic is evident in the current state of cloud-based infrastructure, said Khadim Batti, CEO of Whatfix, the host of the summit. “Investment in cloud infrastructure among enterprises is through the roof,” he says, but adds that this hasn’t translated into a quick transition — many companies are slow to replace their legacy systems.

Friction can come not only from the usual human resistance to change, but also from a lack of awareness of a new technology’s features. To get teams to embrace change, Davies says, you have to show them how the new technology is better than the old. “This was Tesla’s strategy when introducing a huge transformation with electric cars.”

Tesla’s approach to “radical” innovation flows from the top, as Elon Musk once described in an earlier interview. (YouTube:The Motley Fool)

At the time of Tesla’s founding, people regarded electric cars as slow, ugly, and limited in range (and they were). When Tesla unveiled the Roadster, the company emphasized its quick acceleration, its modern, sporty looks, and its 245-mile range. The key was making the cars desirable, Davies pointed out.

In some cases, says Davies, you need to overcompensate for objections to change. The idea is to turn a specific objection into a non-issue. This is what Tesla did with its Supercharger network. Back in the bad old days, a potential EV buyer’s first objection was usually limited range and a lack of charging options. Tesla nipped this quibble in the bud by making charging fast, ubiquitous, and (at first) free.

Organizations need to reward members for using new technology, and steer them away from old behaviors, Davies said. This can include changing job descriptions and performance reviews to emphasize the use of new tools. “If your organization doesn’t have everything pointing towards embracing digital transformation, you’re less likely to have people go there,” she said.

Related story: Tesla Model S Delivery Event Is 8 Years Old (Video)

Featured image: Tesla on city street, CleanTechnica

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