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Tesla CEO Elon Musk told all employees in an email not to “sprint like crazy” to deliver cars, pointing out that although the company expends great effort, rushing and spending loads of money actually does not deliver more cars.”

Elon Musk Tells Tesla Employees Not to ‘Sprint Like Crazy’ to Deliver Cars and Focus on Reducing Costs, Jody Serrano, gizmodo.com, November 28, 2021.

First, Review The Numbers

I had a boss who told me that as long as everyone believed we would make the deadline, we would. “All they have to do is believe!” he would say. My boss also wanted me to conduct three status meetings a day to both drive the project and help people believe. Instead, I looked at the numbers: the rate at which we were completing and delivering features and the rate at which we were disposing of issues and defects reported, and I knew we would make our deadline. And we did. In the e-mail referenced above, Elon Musk had looked at the numbers and had concluded that sprinting at the end of the quarter didn’t really do anything useful but instead increased Tesla’s costs. 

The right principle is take the most efficient action, as though we were not publicly-traded and the notion of “end of quarter” didn’t exist. 

Elon Musk Tells Tesla Employees Not to ‘Sprint Like Crazy’ to Deliver Cars and Focus on Reducing Costs, Jody Serrano, gizmodo.com, November 28, 2021.

Second, Focus On What Is Important

I went to read the article because I was looking for something specific.  I was expecting, or hoping, he would say something like “focus on the quality of our work first,” but instead he put the focus on “the most efficient action.” My experience in software intensive projects was that focusing on quality naturally and efficiently balanced cost and speed.

I’ve wanted to splurge and buy a Tesla Model Y. Decades ago, I originally chose Japanese produced cars over US or German produced cars because the Japanese quality, how well the car worked every day, was as good as the most expensive German cars and only a bit more expensive than the most popular US cars. My focus on quality over cost, features, or speed of delivery has always worked out well for me in both personal and professional contexts.

The real, repeat, lesson here is to capture and look at numbers that characterize one’s business or personal projects. It also helps to sort out such things as pandemics and politics. Getting good numbers and understanding them can be hard, but for much of life, simple numbers do just fine. The one reminder here is that those simple numbers should capture something real that is going on and not be numbers just for the sake of numbers or because they say what we want them to say.

Third, Insight and Science Evolves With Time

What was once a curious absence has now been shown, with better data and improved statistics, to have been there all along. It’s a simultaneous showcase of both the great and self-correcting power of science, while also cautioning us against drawing too-strong conclusions from insufficient, premature data. Science isn’t always fast, but if you do it properly and patiently, it’s the only way to guarantee you’ll get it right in the end.

New black hole discovery proves it: ding, dong, the “mass gap” is dead, Ethan Siegel, bigthink.com, November 11, 2021.

The worldwide pandemic has been a good example of how “science,” which produces the numbers we hope will guide us, changes over time as we learn more. Business leaders, managers, and politicians all feel the need to “do something” to justify their existence when a problem is encountered. In my experience, the best counter to such excessive help is to find something, ideally by using something like the scientific method, to base our actions upon. Musk’s shifting the focus away from sprinting at the end of the quarter appears to be a good example of self-correction based upon looking at objective data. While we still seem to be challenged by the changing nature of the pandemic, we should continue to try and nail down the fundamentals so we can make good public decisions. 

I do have to mention that just because there is a “study” doesn’t mean it is a good study or that it will hold up with time. Multiple studies, especially ones that corroborate other findings, are usually more useful. In this day of flooding comments, reviews, etc., I have a great concern that we’ll start to see a flooding of studies just to skew results down a predetermined, often self-serving or political, path. 

Fourth, Numbers Are Useful, But Only If We Understand Them

The risks here for older people are frightening: A rate of 0.45 percent, for instance, translates into roughly a 1 in 220 chance of death for a vaccinated 75-year-old woman who contracts Covid. If the risks remain near these levels with Omicron, they could lead to tens of thousands of U.S. deaths, and many more hospitalizations.

Good morning. Ready to give up on Covid? Spare a moment to think about older people. David Leonhardt, The New York Times, December 23, 2021.

It sure does sound frightening when put that way. But the author goes on to admit that the normal seasonal flu is twice as deadly, so maybe “frightening” is not a good description, but it sure captures our attention. 

One reassuring comparison is to a normal seasonal flu. The average death rate among Americans over age 65 who contract the flu has ranged between 1 in 75 and 1 in 160 in recent years, according to the C.D.C.

Good morning. Ready to give up on Covid? Spare a moment to think about older people. David Leonhardt, The New York Times, December 23, 2021 .

Comparing numbers to a measure of “normality” has always paid me dividends in managing projects and life. When the pandemic first hit, the numbers I would compare it to were the flu, car deaths (averaging 100 per day, 5 of which were children) and the overall average death rate of 7,500 people per day in the US. The pandemic was certainly real, but when we first heard of overflowing emergency rooms, I still recall the periodic news articles well before the pandemic about emergency rooms packed with people, and people even dying in the ER before an MD could get to them. I never felt any panic during the pandemic, primarily because I always had some foundational numbers to guide my feelings and judgement and I did not rely on hyperbolic media outlets whose main focus in life was to attract viewers (or clickers!). 

If you don’t know what is true then how can you be free?

Paraphrased from Matrix Resurrections (2021).

When was the last time you decided that the “sprinting” you were doing wasn’t helping and so chose another course of action and based it upon reliable data?

Thank you for sharing!