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The best tech keynote I’ve ever seen: Elon Musk’s Appreciative Intelligence

David Cooperrider Posted by David Cooperrider.

David L. Cooperrider, Ph.D. is professor and chair of the Program on Business as an Agent of World Benefit at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western University. In 1987 Dr. Cooperrider and Dr. Suresh Srivastva published the original, foundation theory of AI in an article that has reverberated and changed the field of organizational development.

I’ve watched a lot of handsomely paid CEOs get on stages for keynote presentations over the past decade, and none were as good as the one I saw Elon Musk give Thursday night ....

I’ve watched a lot of handsomely paid CEOs get on stages for keynote presentations over the past decade, and none were as good as the one I saw Elon Musk give Thursday night in California as he…

Source: www.theverge.com

How do you cultivate appreciative intelligence? You learn from people who see the future in the tiniest successes, progress moments, and strengths of today. For example Xerox could have been Apple. However it could not see what was precious right in front of them. Remember what Steve Jobs said in 1978 when he visited the Xerox research labs to look at what everyone else called a very flawed new computer interface. He looked at it, this ugly and very flawed display, and said something like, "“I thought it was the best thing I’d ever seen in my life…it was very flawed…still, the germ of the idea was there and within, you know ten minutes, it was obvious to me that all computers would work like this some day.” 

The other night, in Hawthorne, California, Elon Musk unveiled “the missing piece” in the transition over to clean energy. The Tesla Powerwall, a large household battery (with industrial applications as well), was that piece.


"Our goal is to fundamentally change the way the world uses energy," Musk told a press conference at the Tesla Design Center on Thursday night.


"It sounds crazy, but we want to change the entire energy infrastructure of the world to zero carbon." 


In Musk’s mind, we orbit the key to weening the world off of fossil fuels. “We have this handy fusion reactor in the sky called the Sun,” he said to the crowd as his keynote. Solar energy then, relying on commercially available solar panels, is the first step in the weening process.


We’ve long heard the promise of solar power, but the public hasn’t viewed it as a real competitor to fossil fuels (at least the American public). However, the math is all there. Musk referred to a striking graph to make his point (shown in the video). The blue square is the total amount of surface area that would need to be covered by solar panels to take the US off the grid—and the area is miniscule—like placing a dot on a basketball—a very small dot, from the tip of a felt pen.


Why is it so hard to think like an Elon Musk– someone seeing so much possibility for world transformation in just a tiny battery and the ability to harness the best in business to create value and build a better world? I think, in Tojo Thatchenkery’s words its an ability to "see the mighty oak in the acorn"–an appreciative intelligence that comes from disciplined inquiry (look up Tojo’s book Appreciative Intelligence.)


Leadership = affirmation: its the ability to see the future in the tiniest signs of what works, what’s best, and what’s possible– and then to unite all of that with a businessworthy purpose. Appreciative inquiry, together with meaning and purpose, is such a powerful combination.  Changing the entire fossil fuel basis of our economy is bold, for sure, and it’s not often you hear CEO’s give speeches like this. But its certainly a precious glimpse into appreciative intelligence. You deserve to take a look:




But beware its not this leader’s flawless oratory skills that make this so powerful: its the authenticity of his vision. Leadership is about seeing; its about the appreciative knowing and the ability to read the world for its intimations of something more.  








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